Monday, December 10th, 2012

AMNESTY 2012: Emilie Simon – Franky’s Princess

No, “Most Comparisons to Kate Bush” is not in the hat…


Sabina Tang: I hadn’t heard any Emilie Simon since her soundtrack to March of the Penguins. This intrigued me enough to search for the rest of the record, Franky Knight, which I promptly discovered was 1) a tribute to her fiancé, who’d died of H1N1 in 2009; and 2) the soundtrack of an Audrey Tautou movie. The nearest antecedent for the disco urgency of “Franky’s Princess,” then, is Annie’s “Songs Remind Me Of You” — to which mode Emilie Simon brings her heartbreak, a New Wave trill forced from her twee voice, and her gamelan, all wrapped in a fraying fairytale. 

Jer Fairall: A Dale Bozzio vocal squeak, a “China Girl” Oriental New Wave flourish and a horn section that perches the whole thing on some cliff atop a deserted, storm-swept beach are all striking enough on first pass, but the revelation that the Franky of the title is Simon’s late fiancé and songwriting partner renders the whole thing immediately, heartbreakingly poignant, and everything about the track grows in esteem as a result. Best bit to be found on repeat listens: the way the horn melody is foreshadowed in an early, jittery synth bit, like Franky’s ghost haunting the scene before the widow enters to begin her lament.

Patrick St. Michel: “Franky, I’m not scared,” Emilie Simon says before spending the rest of “Franky’s Princess” shouting to a ghost in an effort to stay that way. If she’s not frightened, Simon definitely sounds confused, but still devoted to what is now a memory. “I’m hanging on to you and I don’t think I’m crazy,” she tells the specter. Most of the time she sounds convinced Franky is right there with him — “tell me why I’m still here/when you’re not” approaches questioning, but she caps the line with a “what’s the deal?” that would work when confronting someone about unanswered texts, not death. Yet she does tremble, as when she shouts into the emptiness “I don’t want/you to go/I try so hard/but I miss you so” and the horns swell behind her. But then she catches herself and pledges loyalty: “I’m still your princess.” And she’s brave once again.

Anthony Easton: The princess sounds like a prisoner here, with a slight operatic touch: more Phantom and less Lucia di Lammermoor, with some gorgeously camp extended vowels in the collapse of the chorus. Any song that makes the phrase “I am still your princess” sound so painfully fucked up is worth something. 

Will Adams: Her quirky voice fits well with the shifty xylophones and 8-bit synth, but when the brass section enters, grand and stately, there’s too much mismatch.

Alfred Soto: The title and vocal swoops are clue so much as bludgeons: a depiction of feminine sexuality that sees in the erotic in the arch, as Tori Amos did in her most affecting/affected early work. Terrific keyb effects and horns too. If it triggers almost all my batshit sensors, why can’t I embrace it? Well, it took a while for me to accept Amos too. 

Iain Mew: There are reasons to try to stay away from Kate Bush comparisons, but “Running Up That Hill” especially seems a fair reference for “Franky’s Princess”. It’s not just the melding of the electronic into the organic to the point where you can’t quite tell where each ends, or the similar sweep of Simon’s voice. It’s the fact that on top of those, when she cuts to the point it’s with an anguished “what’s the deal?” God has gone and made a deal, and just hasn’t cut her in on it. Her response is to throw on brass fanfares and dance bass and strings and celebrate what she can in the hope of not falling apart. It was poignant even before reading up on the background and watching the excellent video.

Ian Mathers: If you gave me, like, two beers, and waited until I’d heard the chorus once or twice and then told me this was an old Kate Bush B-side, I would believe you. And I’d be impressed with what she could do with her Fairlight.

Edward Okulicz: She evokes Kate Bush, but not the Kate Bush we know and love; this sounds like an approximation of what she might have been even before “Wuthering Heights” in the voice. The rest of the song sounds genuinely like her own inspiration, to the extent that I feel like I enjoy the parts (especially the bass and the horns) rather more than I like the song as a whole. If we scored arrangements, this would be two or three points higher.

Katherine St Asaph: The Kate Bush Law of Writing about Female Vocalists, as we all know, states that no matter how throbbing, dynamic, electroacoustic or close-crafted (or, for that matter, acoustic or minimalist or Drakean, but that’s not this) a track, its most immediate feature will end up being the curlicues or swoops of its singer’s voice, specifically how they resemble Bush’s on The Kick Inside. (Bush past Never For Ever is a husky argument-killer.) I’ve done it; you’ve probably thought it. I don’t hear it here, though. What I hear is musical theater: the character-actress vibrato, or the way she snaps “Franky!” — pure stage projection, a brassy flourish for addressee and all to hear. But if no one’s around? If her addressee’s dead, and if she’s half drowned out by the orchestra pit and clanking lighting rig percussion that don’t even sound like they’re from her show? She’ll just have to sing too fervent in a too-shiny machine that doesn’t stop, a disco ball spinning away until it expires.

Zach Lyon: I’ve already made a lifetime’s worth of Kate Bush comparisons, most of them probably unwarranted, but it’s not avoidable here. Even beyond her voice and the way she uses it, there are bits taken wholesale from “Running Up That Hill” and “Sat in Your Lap”; “Franky’s Princess” is a good impression of a remix of a lost track. Maybe that makes it easier for me to accept that she doesn’t keep control of the track like Kate might, as the attempt at “unhinged” is shouted down by an assembly of noise which goes ahead and steals the mood for itself. I wish I could care more about the narrative’s fanfare, but I love being massacred anyway.

Jonathan Bogart: The programmed horns are a patch too bright for the high drama the rest of the track goes to great pains to construct; maybe she means for the fanfare to curdle into mockery, but it was already silly to begin with.

Brad Shoup: My limited understanding is that grief is largely a modern, Western construct. Expressing an individual reaction to loss is an unfamiliar concept in many cultures; mourning is undertaken along well-defined lines as a family or other group. Clearly, writing an album about your dead partner is about as public a demonstration as can be. But “Franky’s Princess” goes beyond the expected tribute; it’s a provocative display. The horns drag themselves around like a hangover, the keyboard wanders sour during the bridge. “I’m hanging on to you,” she sings early on, “and I don’t think I’m crazy.” This is the West: who are we to say otherwise? The track’s not completely pained; it is a dance song, after all, with live bass and percussive earworms. It’s a complicated song, making a complicated statement, and thus easy to appreciate. And hard to shake.

7 Responses to “AMNESTY 2012: Emilie Simon – Franky’s Princess”

  1. Do I win anything for not saying “Kate Bush?” I get it, of course, but something about the synths + the vocals sounded more like Missing Persons to me.

  2. Katherine: Drakean as in Nick, right? It took me several goes to read it that way, though…

  3. As in Fucking, actually, but that works too.

  4. Oh right. Sorry for making assumptions!

  5. Had no idea about the backstory here. Listening to it now’s gonna be different!

  6. It will never, ever occur to me to make a Kate Bush comparison when justified. It’s sort of my thing.

  7. I heard Sandra Lockwood more than Kate, although I left that out because the album isn’t in the cloud anywhere. (Exactly ONE track from it is.)