Stepping into Fugu’s world for the first time feels like crawling into a hidden corner of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and staying there for a while. While Fugu’s songs would never be described as Beatles rip-offs, certain sounds and textures from Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles help make up the stylistic veneer of their album Fugu 1. It’s not the lyrics, melodies or rock and roll guitars, but the extra instruments: the horns, strings, piano and the like, which the Beatles were using to complement their songs at that time. Fugu’s music is filled with sexy sonic flourishes; here, however, they’re not extras for the sake of harmony but the key to the album’s sound. From the album’s cover, a retro scene of a bathing beauty walking down garden steps, to the luxurious sounds within the album, sex is in the air, though less in an explicit sense than as a feeling.
Fugu is mostly the work of one man, a multi-instrumentalist from France named Mehdi Zannad. That’s an amazing fact considering how well-orchestrated everything is. Zannad also has a keen ear for melody and harmony; the album is filled with that wonderful sort of “ba-da-da”-style vocal interplay. “Sol y Sombra”, a duet with Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, displays that sort of pop singing in especially extreme fashion, unraveling into a pop-harmony party. That song also contains a simple, repeating guitar riff that marks another of Fugu’s big influences: Lou Reed. Whether it’s that sort of Velvets-ish guitar playing or the more theatrical pop sense carried by much of Reed’s solo work, Fugu has it.
More important than any of Fugu’s influences is the way they come together cohesively. All of the aforementioned rock styles merge with snatches of jazz, lounge music and psychedelic pop, giving Fugu a distinct sound that nonetheless wears its influences openly. Fugu might not be the most original band here but, aesthetically, they are extremely pleasing. All of the sounds here float into your brain with a delightful sense of glamour and beauty. Whether it’s a guitar sound, a piano part, a horn section, a vocal line or one of the ambient sounds that show up now and then (like the sounds of washing dishes that appear on the first track), it caresses your ears with sweetness.
Lest you think Fugu’s all about sonic gratification, it should be noted that their songs also carry with them a sense of melancholy, as most good pop music does. Fugu’s lyrics are more like fragments of thoughts than any straightforward communication, yet some of them, as sung by Zannad, convey a feeling of sadness lurking beneath the beauty. This is true of a song like “The Best of Us”, with its line “Time with no reward, I get by with no reward at all”, but also of a song like “Au Depart”, where Zannad is singing in a language I don’t know (French), but is conveying real feeling through his singing that comes across despite the language barrier. That might seem like a small accomplishment, but it fits into the real reason Fugu 1 is such an enjoyable pop album. The songwriting, playing, and singing all touch just the right aesthetic and emotional notes. They have a creative accuracy that transcends categories or barriers.