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Scented Gardens Of The Mind:
"Rock theatre" was a very popular medium of entertainment among French audiences in the seventies. It is well known that Peter Gabriel's electrifying performances with Genesis had a huge impact in this respect, but Ange too was a group with an unique vision and their own original ideas.
This group from Orleans belonged to the French 'rock theatre school', as initiated by Ange. Possibly Mona Lisa was the most artistically successful among the early pioneers (they formed as early as 1970).
L'Escapade (recorded at Citadel Studios in October 1974) was a competent debut album, but marred by a rather thin and tinny sound. It was produced by the guitarist from Ange, Jean-Michel Brezovar (being his first attempt at such a job). Musically this only hinted at things to come, with obvious Genesis influences throughout, particularly on the Hackett-style guitar parts. Other features were an uncommon organ sound and Dominique Le Guennec's passionate (sometimes even disturbing) vocals and flute. Overall, the album sounds only half formed and a bit unfocused, as if their ideas were not recorded on the tape the way they were intended.
Not satisfied with their debut album, Mona Lisa recorded Grimaces at Azurville Studios in September 1975, aided by Jean-Pierre Massiera and Bernard Belan. Their sound had now matured considerably with much more variation in the use of instruments, higher intensity and more memorable musical themes. The vocalist had now developed a very distinctive, loud and expressive style. Listening to the songs it's easy to imagine Le Guennec acting in some outrageous costume (like he did in their popular live performances). The album is full of musical highlights, such as "Le Jardin Des Illusions" and "Accroche-Toi Et Suis-Moi". It's easy to assume they were influenced by Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, released the previous year.
Even so, Mona Lisa were capable of improving on a very good album. Their third one was their masterpiece, equalling the best works of Ange and Genesis on the title track (a suite of three pieces filling the whole of side two). This was due to carefully constructed compositions and a more accessible sound. The group worked on the album for several months with Massiera and Belan engineering. Recommended listening.
01. La mauvaise reputation 3:32
02. Brume 5:02
03. Complainte pour un narcisse 4:25
04. Le jardin des illusions 6:36
05. Accroche-toi et suis-moi 6:12
06. Au pays des grimaces 6:12
07. Maneges et chevaux de bois 7:03
08. Maneges et chevaux de bois (live version) [bonus track] 7:53
Dominique Le Guennec / lead vocals, flutes, sax, percussion
Jean-Paul Pierson / keyboards, vocals
Christian Gallas / guitar, vocals
Jean-Luc Martin / bass, vocals
Francis Poulet / drums, percussions, vocals