Noir Désir- 666.667 Club (Barclay, 1996)
French rock is awful, right? The French have a reputation for their recent pop music being almost uniformly dire-and by recent i mean anything from about 1971 to the present. Most of the time, this reputation isn't entirely deserved. The language barrier is definitely to blame- a lot of French music focuses on the quality of the lyrics far more than the English equivalent would, but if you don't understand them, it doesn't matter how brilliant they are. Noir Désir (Black Desire) are probably France's premier rock band, have been active for decades and now have a rock'n' roll scandal to go with that: their frontman Bernard Cantat has just been released from prison, after serving time for murdering his girlfriend as the result of an argument.
666.667 Club went double platinum in France, and was very well received. In addition to the basic grunge template, there are gypsy violins and free jazz saxophone, amongst other things. In my opinion the band are at their best in their more politically or culturally aware songs, such as 'Un Jour En France', ridiculing the adulation of a golden-age postwar France ('les trentes années glorieuses' of modern French history) which never really was, and the slow rise of fascism (particularly that of the National Front, or F.N.) which was beginning at the time of this album. Perhaps tellingly, much of the criticism in a song which is almost 14 years old still applies to France today.
The slightly redundant English-language track which seemed to be obligatory at the time is indeed present; 'Prayer For A Wanker' (or 'woncur' as it ends up) but overall this is a very good album, musically tight and lyrically dextrous, and it even has one properly good English track, 'Lazy'. 'Un Homme Pressé' and 'Un Jour...' are the best songs by far but there is plenty here worth investigating.