Flamboyant French rock musician Franck Carducci, with his very talented band, is becoming increasingly well known for his entertaining and spectacular live shows, full of eye-catching theatre, humour and high-quality musicianship, conveyed with great style and elan. Therefore, it’s a surprise that his latest (and third) studio album The Answer is not only a vehicle for his distinctive brand of theatrical music but also touches on some deeper themes which affect us all. Franck has shared that the album revolves around the main question of ‘what is the meaning of human life?’ – just that rather small subject!!! However, never fear dear readers, Franck Carducci has not transmogrified into some sort of introverted chin-stroking intellectual – nope, he has not lost that glint in his eye and this album is absolutely saturated with great tunes and hooks, and is an absolute joy.
Franck and his excellent band gig relentlessly, with frequent tours around Europe and the U.K., and this persistence and stamina over the years is gradually building a growing fan base. Virtually anyone who has been fortunate enough to have seen them in action has no doubt been immediately won over as fans – their shows are that infectious. This sense of professionalism and faith in their own talent has driven Franck and his band on, no matter the size of the venue or the crowd. It has been four years since their last studio album, but it has not been four years without new songs as Franck has been gradually introducing new songs into the set. At least four of these ‘new songs’ on this album have been played in concert for the last few years, so many fans will have some familiarity with it, particularly the rifftastic Slave to Rock’n’Roll and Franck’s acapella tribute to the Woodstock Generation, On the Road to Nowhere. This ‘road testing’ in a live environment over some time has resulted in material that has become finely honed and polished, really working as ‘Songs’ – these are not complex, dense or cerebral pieces, they are captivating and catchy songs with memorable melodies, riffs and straightforward lyrics, written from and for the Heart.
The Answer commences in cinematic fashion with the title track, eerie synth and droning didgeridoo, from Christophe Obadiah, underpinning a delicate acoustic guitar. A strumming guitar and harmony vocals take us into a hippy-like reverie of positivity. A great bass line from Carducci himself combines beautifully with a dancing Hammond organ line from Olivier Castan, before the jangling acoustic guitars take us back into the sunny uplands in which this lovely optimistic song saunters – it’s clear that the message is that LOVE is the Answer, and who could argue with that feeling? It’s not rocket science as a song or a concept, but it’s an answer too few seem to be able to accept.
The album goes off in another direction for the next two pieces, based on the fictional story of the rock star ‘Arion’. Franck says that Slave to Rock’n’Roll can be seen as the hit that made Arion a superstar, and perhaps in another time and in different circumstances it should have been a hit in real life. This is a straight-ahead and accessible heavy rock song with earworm hooks and fantastic rock’n’roll riffs. As a live piece, Carducci opens the shows with the Arion character entering in suitably ‘over the top’ style as the band cranks out some infectious heavy chords from Christophe Obadiah and Steve Marsala – it has real echoes of classic early ’70s Alice Cooper in sound and flamboyant style. It’s a fantastic show opener that has lost none of its power and ‘pizzazz’ on the album, Franck capturing that great live energy in the studio. The following Superstar is more retrained but also more ambitious and multi-faceted as it tells the story of Arion. Acoustic guitars and Castan on fluid Hammond organ take us right into the story with some excellent vocals from Franck, along with his outstanding bass, with which he anchors each song, but additionally, his distinctive bass style impels it to the fore as a lead instrument in some parts, such is his skill. The lovely voice of Mary Reynaud takes up the lead in a more plaintive section before ‘Arion’ himself returns as the story takes a more sinister turn. The song goes into rock theatre as a crowd chants, “We want your Money, we want your Money!” and then we are treated to a guitar solo that could have graced any Elton John album from his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road era. A ‘Splash’ plunges the listener into another environment altogether as the song descends into melancholy with a sinking, drowning feeling. It is a fairly low-key ending and for me it was not wholly successful as a piece – but that is small criticism in an album which is overwhelmingly excellent.
Franck Carducci is clearly a warm person and he re-iterates the central theme that LOVE is the Answer with a simple message, seemingly aimed at his daughter, in The Game of Life, accompanied beautifully on piano by Richard Vecchi, with a lovely lilting jazz feel added by the gorgeous trumpet of Thierry Seneau – this is nothing like we have heard from Franck before and it’s refreshing to see him stretching himself in another direction. Similarly, in Beautiful Night, one of the ‘Bonus tracks’, Franck plays ALL the instruments himself in a gentle piece which chimes along with a soulful vocal, dripping with emotion before atmospherically drifting off into the starry night sky with synth lines intertwining and receding into the cosmic distance.
The main album concludes with Asylum which opens with a Gothic opening. Franck has described it as “a crazy story I invented – it’s kind of in-between One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Orwell’s 1984”, which is quite a claim! There is a clear reference to the classic Supertramp song Asylum as the lyrics mention “sitting next to Jimmy Cream”, the main protagonist of that great song. Franck covered School on his previous album, Torn Apart, so it should come as no surprise that this influence should surface in terms of theme and feel on this very good song – indeed it almost sounds like a sequel to that fine piece. A driving rhythmic rock riff, with a great lead guitar from guest Fabrice Dutour, gives way to a more plaintive piano section (a la Supertramp?!). Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater) provides a tremendous rising Hammond organ solo – and the fact he also played with Alice Cooper once again underlines Carducci’s resonance with the widescreen rock theatre of such early ’70s artists. A wah-wah guitar leads us into a brief but explosive and flowing drum solo from guest drummer, the outstanding Jimmy Palagrosi (Zio & ex-Karnataka), before Dutour really takes off on guitar in a dazzling finale. Carducci screams “No-one escapes the Asylum” in a suitably spectacular and slightly insane conclusion to this Rock Circus of an album.
However, even that dramatic epic is surpassed by the centrepiece and standout track, the allegorical sci-fi tale The After Effect. Carducci has shared that this song is about an “Outer Space Entity who comes to Earth to try to find the meaning of our insignificant lives – we come to life, we live, we die… But what purpose do we serve?” This is a piece with an ambitious theme, but is it successful as a piece of music?
The answer is undoubtedly in the affirmative. A female vocalisation with piano and guitar introduces us into a widescreen soundscape as Carducci sings forcefully over powerful rock. Antonino Reina is particularly outstanding on this piece, with some incendiary drumming to emphasise the extra-terrestrial drama that unfolds. Franck’s band is in volcanic and furious form, thrusting the song forward on musical afterburners. Franck and Mary combine so well vocally, conveying a sense of madness as they sing “I’m losing control”. A weird interlude of throbbing synths and swooping, eerie sound effects is only the prelude to a powerfully stellar conclusion. Carducci has said that the Entity is timeless and knows the consequence of any action she takes, so our lives seem meaningless to her. It is only when the Entity realises the fragility of humans and the power of Love that she understands.
Franck Carducci is a consummate rock artist with a real sense of drama, fun and showmanship in a live context. This outstanding album exemplifies those qualities but adds more breadth, subtlety and emotion.
Is this one of the best progressive rock albums of 2019?
That’s a debatable question. Franck very much wears his ’70s influences very clearly on his sleeve. He’s not ‘edgy’ or experimental – he is gorgeously melodic, wildly exciting and massively entertaining, and this album brilliantly captures those qualities. Whatever the answer, this is a great album.
Love is definitely The Answer… that’s always the RIGHT Answer.
01. (Love is) The Answer (8:01)
02. Slave to Rock’n’Roll (5:42)
03. Superstar (12:28)
04. The After Effect (10:03)
05. The Game of Life (4:32)
06. Asylum (11:11)
~ Bonus tracks:
07. On the Road to Nowhere (2:38)
08. Beautiful Night (7:10)
09. (Love is) The Answer [Radio Cut] (4:07)
10. Slave to Rock’n’Roll [Radio Cut] (3:56)
Total Time – 69:50
Franck Carducci – Vocals, 12-string, Electric & Bass Guitars, Synth (track 3), Piano (track 6), All Instruments & Vocals (track 8)
Mary Reynaud – Vocals (track 3), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,2,4,6 & 7), Theremin (track 4)
Antonino Reina – Drums (tracks 1,2,3 & 4), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,3 & 7)
Christophe Obadia – Electric Guitars (tracks 2,3 & 4), Didgeridoo (track 1), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,3 & 7)
Olivier Castan – Hammond Organ (tracks 1,2 & 3), Mellotron (tracks 1,2,3 & 4), Synths (tracks 1,2 & 4), Piano (track 4), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,2,3 & 7)
Steve Marsala – Electric Guitars (tracks 2,3 & 4), 12-string Guitar (track 3), Backing Vocals (tracks 1,2,3,4 & 7)
Derek Sherinian – Hammod Organ, Mellotron (track 6)
Jimmy Palagrosi – Drums (track 6)
Fabrice Dutour – Lead Guitar (track 6)
Richard Vecchi – Piano (track 5)
Thierry Seneau – Trumpet (track 5)
Sandra Reina – Backing Vocals (tracks 1,3 & 6)
Amelyn Vecchi – Backing Vocals (tracks 1,3 & 6)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 28th November 2019
– Oddity (2011)
– Torn Apart (2015)
– Tearing the Tour Apart (2016)