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Fugu 1
Minty Fresh

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Is it just me, or is there something strange about the Minty Fresh label? Their artists are far too clean and polished to be true. The robotically sweet Komeda, Tahiti 80, Papas Fritas, and the Aluminum Group, for example, make music that is almost inhumanly crisp, neatly folded and perfectly recorded. Not once has a "Bop ba Baaah" fallen out of place, nor has a baroque harpsichord melody skipped a beat; never has a French lyric offended the ear, nor has a guitar solo struck a dissonant note. Everything is perfect...too perfect. Are they pop robots?

Well, Iíve just taken the Minty Fresh Factory tour, and Iíve heard their latest in pop-perfection technology, and appropriately enough itís called Fugu -- Fugu 1. I wonít wait until the conclusion to suggest that is youíre a fan of these other Minty Fresh bands, this new French sensation is sure to fit perfectly into your collection. From its perfectly kitschy album art (a sixties luxury home and corresponding bathing beauty) to the songs found within, Fugu draws about ninety percent of their influence from this time period. But hell, they do it really well.

The album opens with an untitled instrumental in which pianos, strings, horns, and a sprightly bass kick out loungey melodies that sound like bridges from Pet Sounds. The clinking of glasses say that youíve made the correct choice in selecting this disc as the soundtrack to your fondue party. When the second song, "The Best of Us", kicks in, it becomes clear that youíre dealing with someone who approaches pop genius. Singer and mastermind Mehdi Zannadís voice introduces itself in a casual, melodic falsetto over the driving beat of the Rhodes and harpsichord (still one of pop musicís best instruments ever). The fast-paced arrangement turns to an instrumental break where oohs, ahhs and cellos wail, while flutes and horns arpeggiate straight to the searing pop core. Another favorite is "Sol Y Sombra", a French pop nugget that features lead vocals by Stereolabís Laetitia Sadier.

Although its quality and creativity never falter, as Fugu 1 goes on it becomes a little redundant. It would be nice if the group had included some more stripped down tunes to balance out this hyper-orchestrated affair. Instead, here comes another grandiose horn section, another prancing harpsichord melody, another wall of beautiful harmonies... I think the inventors at Minty Fresh never programmed restraint into Fugu. Still, it never sounds the least bit unpleasant. Those pop purists at Minty Fresh may not have perfected their formula just yet, but what theyíve got here is some of the most sophisticated ear candy Iíve heard this year.

-- Ed Anderson
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