Les Rita Mitsouko is not a name which means much outside France, but it really should. After all, this duo, who originated from Paris' squat-scene in the early 80s, attracted some pretty influential fans: Bowie producer Tony Visconti helmed controls for two of their albums, including The No Comprendo, and they collaborated with Sparks and Iggy Pop. System of a Down's Serj Tankian even pops up on one of their 00s albums.
Formed by guitarist Fred Chichin and singer Catherine Ringer, Les Rita Mitsouko were a pop band who never took the traditional route to making a pop song. Their vast range of influences included punk, synth pop, rockabilly, funk, flamenco and jazz. Listening to their records is like hearing the imaginary soundtrack to an early Pedro Almodóvar film: around every corner is another eccentric, flamboyant character, another party teetering on the edge of violence. If you like early Roxy Music, John Waters, strong females and seedy nightlife, you will like Les Rita Mitsouko.
Their first album, 1984's almost-eponymous Rita Mitsouko, produced a surprise number two hit in 'Marcia Baila', a manic confection of squelching synth-pop and staccato Spanish guitar, which made clear the duo's eccentricity. Following this, the band gave full reign to their influences on their second album. Perhaps working with Visconti is the reason The No Comprendo has a harder, sometimes glam rock-inflected sound.
Opening track 'Les Histoires d'A' is an uncomplicated glam stomp incongruously sweetened by some gypsy fiddle. 'Andy' which follows, could not present a greater contrast, building on a 80s funk/hip-hop sound with Chic-style guitar licks and blocky synth-stabs. It's the sound of a band with no interest in recognising genre boundaries and it manages through sheer gumption to turn what by rights should be a big mess into pure pop fun.
'C'est Comme Ca', the album's big single, is different again. An industrial-strength blast of new wave riffage and attitudinal rock 'n' roll, it came with a fantastic video (see below) which showcased what a star Ringer was. She delivers a powerhouse performance on 'C'est Comme Ca', switching between Annie Lennox croon and Siouxsie Sioux howl at the drop of a hat while Chichin's irresistible guitar switchblades behind her.
'Vol De Nuit' is a slower, synth-jazz song with a hint of 80s Bowie about it (in a good way). The band switches to English for the following 'Someone to Love', a tough-as-nails rockabilly strop with some great echo-slapped vocals from Ringer and Robert Fripp worthy guitar histrionics from Chichin. At just over three minutes, it's the shortest track on the album, repeatedly pummelling you in the face before legging it away with your heart and possibly your wallet.
Ringer stays with English for 'Stupid Anyway', a horse, drunken shanty, apparently about being stupid and horny. 'Un Soir Un Chien' is tasteful, Sade-style 80s dinner jazz with weird stuff happening underneath. It sounds queasy and unsteady, like our hosts downed too much wine before their guests arrived. Ringer turns in a crackly falsetto vocal which is equal parts fragile and mocking. Halfway through, she switches to a baritone growl and the music becomes more menacing.
'Bad Days' is twitchy, tough robo-funk, very reminiscent of Grace Jones. It's followed by the bereft-sounding 'Tonight', full of bellyaching, distorted guitar and, of all things, a whistling solo. "Tonight, you just wanna go to my house/ You just wanna go to my bed," growls Ringer, every inch the dominatrix, as Chichin builds up to some rock god histrionics.
Any other band would have made the brooding majesty of 'Tonight' the closing track. Not this band. Instead, The No Comprendo bows out with the utterly daft 'Nuit d'Ivresse', a fizzy party track which overdoses on trumpet fanfares, flamenco guitar and cheeky sideways glances until it pukes itself unconscious. It's silly but also hard not to love.
And that's all, folks. The No Comprendo is an album on which no song sounds like any other, made by a band with so much talent they could turn their hand to anything but who were mischievous enough not to take that too seriously. Of course, since most the songs are sung in French, I have very little idea what they're about. They could be about sandwiches for all I know. But so what? This would still be a collection of the best, most fun, heartfelt, crazy, thrilling sandwich songs ever made. And that, if for no other reason, is why you should own The No Comprendo.