I guess I wasn’t paying attention. There’s a lot more hair on my shoulders this morning, and it’s bugging me out. I went to the bathroom, rubbed my eyes, washed my face, and looked in the mirror; there it was: clumps of strands, curled and lank, thin and grisly, more evidence that in spite of myself or whatever my intentions happen to be, I’m probably going to get weirder and uglier every day from here on out, no matter what I try to do about it. Cheveu would have shrugged this off. They are gracefully, imperturbably weird, and while they aren’t going to put strands on your shoulders per se, they’re probably the John Belushi of French gonzo post-punk. And if there’s a record that’s going to make you feel hairy, fat, and sassy this year, it’s BUM. Is that title a noun or a verb? Good question.
Cheveu write songs you could call “gimmicky,” but they are not a gimmicky band. Like how golden-era Devo could get away with everything (until very suddenly they couldn’t even really do anything), Cheveu make hay with mangling a shopping list of screwball references through their acid sense of humor while having the musical muscle to make what they’re throwing at the wall stick. Their songs are less songs than they are well-told jokes, since Cheveu are less artisanal songwriters than they are pranksters channeling their bizarro intellects into pop songs. If Cheveu were drawing political cartoons instead, it’d probably be as worthwhile. Approaching France from the furthest possible cultural distance, they’re in the tradition of Serge Gainsbourg, a stylist who managed to bring even reggae under his wriggling torso while remaining as louchelike himself as ever. Gainsbourg once recorded a pun-heavy song called “Titicaca” with a crack group of English session musicians who were horrified once they found out; Cheveu recorded songs with an Israeli string quartet to go on a record alongside a song called “Sensual Drug Abuse.”
That said, despite the brains at work, Cheveu haven’t found a way to make it really stick over a whole full-length yet, and while BUM is their strongest suite, it falls flat as often as it flies. “Pirate Bay” is the most gorgeous thing they’ve constructed so far, coasting on a momentum equal parts David Lemoine’s raving (“All I want is pirate eyes/ Ones that look good!/ Ones that look bad!”) and the ferrety lockstep turnarounds of the verses. Instrumentally, this is their best work, managing to be more deft and more playful at the same time, like the way “Stadium” glides down huge motorik verses before dissolving into a shadowboxing hardcore punk chorus (“Please yourself/ Do it every way”) that’s as likely to be a pep talk as it is a call-out to masturbate.
Essentially, when the Cheveu formula works, and it often does here, it’s because of a thick, sly instrumental hook, and Lemoine tugging at an idea with his teeth until the stuffing comes out. But to things let them down: empty lyric sheets and the more self-consciously novelty elements of their sound. “Madame Pompidour” coasts on the kind of Slates-era groove The Fall would have ridden out interminably until it all gets very Weill, like MacHeath trying to fool around with a pitchshifter. “Albinos” is a melange of Gummo and AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock,” and while there’s a thrill to it, there’s not much to go on beyond Lemoine’s repetition of the title.
Cheveu scan as an essentially democratic collective, putting as much emphasis on Demoine’s monologuing as they do the delicate tissue of synth and guitar that opens “Polonia.” Yet, you get the feeling Cheveu could really make a leap if they put more emphasis on Demoine’s lunatic, vicious charm; he has such an immense presence (up there with the Mark E. Smiths of the world) that no matter how well put together Cheveu’s music is, his absence from the mic at any given moment feels like a missed opportunity, especially when he’s repeating himself. Cheveu do a great job spit and shining here, but ultimately, if there’s a band you want to spit in your face more often, it’s Cheveu.