Effet Miroir is an attempt to bring ZAZ to a broader audience.
French chanteuse powerhouse ZAZ has dominated the international pop scene for nearly a decade, yet she’s left little imprint on our shores. Despite glowing lauds from NPR and BlackBook, her unique style of gypsy jazz, Latin grooves and pop sensibilities rarely make waves on our side of the Atlantic. It’s a shame: ZAZ’s talent is undeniable. Her sound encompasses coy yet mature songwriting, sensual and soulful vocal delivery, and admiration and respect for fusing style and genre. It’s anyone’s guess if her latest, Effet Miroir, will spread her name across North America, but there’s no denying the depth, variety, and unbridled personality on this record.
It’s a tired trope to compare every French superstar female singer to the legendary Edith Piaf. No one will ever mimic the soul and the sound of the little sparrow, but Piaf’s vivacious, rebellious spirit lives on in ZAZ’s pitch-perfect pop execution. In lesser hands opening track “Demain C’est Toi” would sound like a stale saccharine ballad with rolling piano and swelling strings. Coming from ZAZ’s tender yet deliciously gritty voice, however, the track sounds convincing and–dare one say–undeniably passionate.
ZAZ makes a habit of embracing global music styles that suit her personality, and while the results don’t always click they are still unquestionably novel efforts. The gypsy/reggae groove of “Qué Vendra” recalls her manouche roots while “J’aime j’aime” flexes a stock pop sensibility. It’s easy to argue that a French singer cherry picking non-Euro-centric styles is a cheap tactic, a ploy to draw in the Putamayo crowd. True, not everything is a raging hit, but they never detract or sound detrimental. The soca guitars backing “Porquoi Tu Joues Faux” add a nice color, but not much else.
ZAZ’s personality shines through every track, for better or worse. She’s not a chameleon; she doesn’t accommodate to the songs as much as they bend to her will, centering themselves around her musical conviction. It’s a sound that works well on the stripped piano and voice intimacy of “Ma valse,” a track that lets her flirt with Jacques Brel-inspired drama without sounding over-emotive, yet not every track fares as well. The disco-funk of “On s’en remet jamais” feels misplaced, a tune that grooves yet doesn’t feel as cohesive as other dance anthems. The grandiose crowd pleaser “Nos Vies” sounds generic with tight guitars and reverb-drenched drums coming off as oddly uninspired. This would be enough for most singers, but ZAZ’s consistently stellar track record over the past decade demands more.
There’s still plenty of old world romance throughout Effet Miroir with traces of piano ballads and gypsy jazz, but more than anything the album represents a sonic evolution. Successful or not, the variety of sounds and styles is an impressive blend of electronic and acoustic tracks that sound slick without losing their soul. Still, not everything on the album shines, with a handful of tracks feeling oddly typical and uninspired. The garage rock-laced pop of “Je Parle” is a standout, a catchy track that still demonstrates ZAZ’s soulful crooning, but the glitchy programming of“Résigne Moi” fails to deliver. “Si C’était á Refaire” packs a tight funk beat, perhaps the most bombastic we’ve heard from the French chanteuse yet.
There’s no denying Effet Miroir is an attempt to bring ZAZ to a broader audience. It’s light and accessible, packed with global-friendly grooves to appeal to the widest audience possible, yet with ZAZ’s voice and conviction it generally succeeds. Her slinky, playful delivery infuses a carefree spirit into each tune, yet even she can’t deliver a record full of miracles. Nonetheless, Effet Miroir soars more than it stumbles, an excellent demonstration that pop can have just as much substance as style.