Monday, August 20, 2007


I'm not the type to buy an album purely on the basis of cover art. Then again, the one time I remember doing so it turned out rather well; maybe I should reconsider. The impulse purchase: IQ6 Zang Tumb Tuum Sampled. (For the record, the cover art is Kenneth Martin's 'Chance and order #20', 1977.)

At that point the only artists I recognized on the track listing were Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Art Of Noise. I wasn't savvy enough to know that ZTT's mastermind Trevor Horn had produced quite a few other tracks that I did know (e.g. Yes's 'Owner of a lonely heart' and Buggles' 'Video killed the radio star'.) IQ6 opened the door to some other artists I've loved ever since, like Propaganda and Anne Pigalle.

At its peak, ZTT was a wellspring of sounds that just didn't seem to have much of an antecedent in pop music. The artists (except maybe Frankie) and Trevor Horn seemed to find their inspiration in other areas of music - sound collage, modern classical, futurism, performance art, film score - and then reconstitute those sources into pop-friendly work. I marveled at Anne Pigalle's two contributions to the sampler because they were accessible, and referenced things I knew (cabaret songs, Marlene Dietrich) but they still had the aural effect of falling down a rabbit hole.

'Intermission (the gods are bored)' always sounds fresh to me because it is so anachronistic. A circus organ lilts around an exotic scale with attendant popping bubbles, and then Anne begins in her world-weary French-accented English: 'It was one of these mornings / if I remember / It was today very early...' Okay, so she's not a completely trustworthy narrator; the poor woman can't remember what day it is. But she doesn't sound confused, more like she's coasting back into sobriety as day breaks, which is pretty much what she's describing. But as she's getting her bearings, she is arrested by a realization: 'Oh no- no- / The gods are bored again'. With that, the organ is joined by a funky electronic rhythm section that chugs merrily through the rest of the song.

Despite the reference to deity, it's not going to be religious, that's clear. The gods are plural, and bored, and it's happened before. This is a strange Beckett-esque trip we're starting. Anne toggles back and forth between English and French, sounding much like an entertainment director over the loudspeaker on the lido deck, trying to rouse the gods from their distracted meddling: 'We can change the world / It feels so good / Such an unfair affair'.

Switching into carnival barker mode, Anne trades French with the English of a Joel Grey style cabaret emcee. They continue to attmpt to spark the interest of the gods, hawking extreme, dangerous feats 'never shown before anywhere in the entire world'. I realize this is sounding completely bizarre, and the best way to frame it might be to compare it to the work of Tim Burton; if you try to describe Beetlejuice you sound like a head case, but it's great to watch...

Anne settles in for a moment of wry clarity. 'Hey God, you're not always funny / And I know you've got weaknesses, too.' But soon enough the trippy internal logic takes over again, as Destiny and Fatality get into a toussle. Apparently Fatality is a real kill-joy, 'always cramping somebody else's style / And Chance has disappeared again / and you might never, ever see her again'.

Really, this is about as Greco-Roman as one can get. We have been sucked into a world in which a pantheon of all too human deities are constantly mucking around with the civilians in an attempt to keep things interesting, and we wonder how far from the truth that scenario really might be. It just happens that a sexy French to British expat is singing about it in a high tech mannerist lounge act. And, miracle of miracles, not only does it work, it's hysterical at points.

Everything Could Be So Perfect, the album from which 'Intermission' was pulled for the IQ6 sampler, was the only one Anne made with ZTT, but she continues to this day in the cabaret/salon style, producing sexy, European, sometimes jaded music and visual art. Everything is long out of print, making it, and 'Intermission' in particular, a real treasure. How the gods can be bored with Ms Pigalle around, I have no idea.

Anne Pigalle official website