David Usher has done it all. He started off in 1992 as a Canadian grunge icon fronting the band, Moist. He first stepped outside the band to record the brilliant solo debut Little Songs, an album which blends acoustic guitars with loungey electro sounds in a way many of today’s indie bands could only hope to achieve. Over the years he has sung in English, French, and Thai, and has dabbled with many genres and collaborators. As he entered the years where many artists lose creativity and start to rest on their laurels, he wrote a book on how to unleash your creativity and founded the Human Impact Lab at Concordia University to study various elements of the human existence.
In short, if we were to preserve one human’s DNA to rebuild in the case of disaster, he should be on the short list. So, what to next for him? Well, this adopted Montrealer decided to further his immersion into the city’s bilingual culture, rather than lament it as most Montrealers do. He decided to record, Let It Play, a record of English versions of popular French songs, often even keeping the exact same instrumental track. Some songs attempt literal translation while others simply inspire themselves with the melodies to form their own narrative.
Let me preface this by saying I know nothing about French music. All of these songs are new to me and shall hence judge them on their own merit as their own oeuvre. The collection veers towards the poppier side, but without straying into the cheesy or formulaic aspects of pop. Songs like “They Will Believe (In This Love)” and “War Again” are straight up crowd pleasers that will put a smile on your lips and a wiggle in your hips. These tracks immediately stand out as radio fodder. “Dream of Flight” and “Asleep Underwater” have a more brooding undertone, but are quite beautiful songs. They play around in your head and linger long after they’re done. While these tracks stand out, what’s truly remarkable is that none of these songs sound out of place. They all sound like an original coherent collection of songs. You’d think that using the original instrumental tracks, somewhere something would sound forced like it was a square peg trying to fit in a triangular hole, but not once it feel that way.
Okay, maybe once. In a reversal on the theme, Usher included a French translation of his hit single, “Black Black Heart.” You can tell that French is far from Usher’s mother tongue. Somehow, though, it comes off so honestly and with such boyish charm that it works.
The spirit of this collection shines through and through. It is an artist paying tribute to something in order develop an appreciation for it. It’s honest and it’s refreshing.
Written by Richard Brunette
*edited by Danielle Kenedy