In a career that has spanned more than four decades, French pianist and composer Pascal Comelade has collaborated with musicians such as Robert Wyatt, Faust and PJ Harvey. But his own music, which has barely escaped his homeland, doesn’t exactly sound like the company he keeps. Le Rocanrolorama Abrégé (The Abbreviated Rockandrollorama) is a single-disc condensation of a nearly comprehensive six-disc boxed set released last year, and it presents the charming if sometimes twee work of a musical eccentric who walks on the edge of whimsy and experimentation.

Comelade’s po-mo melodies have the romance of Nino Rota and the rhythm of Astor Piazzolla, that is if either of them arranged their compositions for toy instruments and had the kind of sly sense of humor to give them titles such as “Stranger in Paradigm” and “I Put a Barbara Steele on You.” While those evocative images give up a musical saw tango and a toy xylophone surf-number, respectively, the composer has a more serious side too. The bittersweet “Sense el Ressó del Dring,” which features toy piano as well, has an aching melody that swells up from its junkyard arrangement to evoke a sadly thwarted ambition: it sounds like a composer stuck in poverty, dreaming of greatness and reaching it despite his limitations.

Still, he does have his limitations. Even if the toy instrumentation doesn’t quite get grating, even over the course of a 68-minute album (the six-disc box may well have been overkill), it does come off as shtick, however modest. Tracks like “The Halucinogenic Espontex Sinfonia,” which sounds like the theme song to a pint-sized spaghetti western, start to feel like so much pastiche. Which makes Comelade a gentler Quentin Tarantino of the music world.

Collecting music originally recorded between 1993 and 2016, the anthology glosses over Comelade’s penchant for unusual covers (look for his fragment of a “Sunny Afternoon” or his tinny “Sex Machine”), but it still shows the range of an artist who likes to explore, from one-minute fragments like “Paganini Paga Tot a Nono” to more ambitious five-minute pieces such as “The Skatalan Logicofobism,” which sounds like it comes from the soundtrack to Fellini’s unfinished epic about a flea circus. Despite its arch and mostly uncommercial bent, a kind of arthouse sentimentality comes through. This is crowd-pleasing music in search of the right crowd. Comelade sounds like he’d know how to craft a hit if he had to: the retro groove of “Spinoza Was a Soul Garagist” is just begging to be used in an ad campaign for a brightly colored sports car.

There’s nothing here as perfect as his lo-fi version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Harley Davidson,” or Wyatt’s haunting vocal on Comelade’s “September Song,” a match made in some heavenly run-down café on a cobblestone street. Le Rocanrolorama Abrégé essentially sounds like hip coffeeshop music, but I doubt you could find a café outside of Comelade’s native Catalan that would play it; maybe if you slip this into the queue at your neighborhood chain, nobody will be the wiser, and it will make that double latte go down with a little more drama.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Various Artists: Hallo Zayaendo

Created as a souvenir among friends, it reveals a world that may not resonate as it does f…