Review of "Belle Epoque - Cretu & Thiers"

published 27/05/2012 | 80smusicreviewer
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Excellent
Pro Excellent vocals, strong lyrics, gentle and melodic sound, polished production
Cons Very underrated and overlooked
exceptional
Originality
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money
Lyrics

"Belle Epoque"

Cretu & Thiers - Belle Epoque

Cretu & Thiers - Belle Epoque

Introduction


Romanian musician Michael Cretu has had plenty of fame through his many collaborations since the late 70s, where he was most successful and active during the 80s and 90s. His career extended from producing and co-writing many of Sandra Cretu’s material (wife of Michael Cretu, and best known as Sandra), to creating Enigma, an electronic musical project founded in Germany by Cretu, David Fairstein and Frank Peterson in 1990. It was in the early 80s when Cretu was part of the German New Wave band Moti Special, who found success within Germany during 1984/1985 with their hits Cold Days, Hot Nights and Don’t Be So Shy, from the album Motivation. After the success, Cretu left the band to pursue a solo career as both a musician and producer, which caused the band to soon split, although a 1990 album Dancing for Victory featured a new line-up and a new vocalist. Two years after the successful debut album, Cretu teamed up with the band’s singer Manfred “Thissy” Thiers to record an album as a collaboration. The project was under the name Cretu and Thiers, sometimes known as CaT, where both musicians co-wrote tracks with Cretu’s frequent collaborator Klaus Hirschburger of the 80s German New Wave band Hubert Kah. Together the duo released one album and four singles, including a great cover of Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit School’s Out, which was the only song not to be included on the album. The album, produced entirely by Cretu, was released in 1988, titled Belle Epoque.

Tracks


The album’s opening track is titled Mona Lisa, written by Cretu, Thiers and Hirschburger. A haunting and strong synth-pop track, the song immediately from the start uses some fine percussion with some strong keyboard layers, one with an Indian-themed sound, one which creates drones in the backdrop and a fitting bass part. Thiers’ vocal is naturally high pitched and therefore works well with the light synth-pop and sometimes dreamy sound of many tracks on the album. A much stronger and driving percussion section later joins the song, whilst Thiers pushes through the recurring vocal sections over the various backing keyboard sounds. For the final minute, the song uses the lead guitar as a backing instrument, whilst the song comes to a halt, building the song back down before the song closes with a fine instrumental section that highlights the various sounds. A strong solo section uses lead guitar with a fitting studio effect attached to it, followed by a keyboard solo. Whilst the instrumentation and vocal is excellent, the lyrics also remain a highlight, being rather powerful and yet written in an opened minded fashion, causing the listener to wonder what they mean. No doubt relating to the famous painting itself, the lyrics perhaps show the singer of the song speaking to her about the haunting emotions that surround them. Interestingly, the song was a re-worked version of Cretu’s 1985 album track Silver Water from the album The Invisible Man, where most notably the lyrics are completely different and unrelated. Overall, an excellent opening track with some strong vocal, great instrumentation, nice atmosphere and some thoughtful lyrics. “Now I see that if I cry for the moon tonight, I'll be searching just for someone on my side. Mona Lisa I'll never trust in a lie, can you hear me? Time and again I will try. And just in every location, I find the right explanation, I can try, I can try…”

Crazy Life, a lighter and more melodic track than the album’s opener, was written by Thiers and Hirschburger. The song opens with the song’s light, somewhat unusual and immediately appealing keyboard melody, backed by dreamy synthesizer drones and a solid rhythm section. Again Thiers’ vocal is excellent and fitting throughout the entire track, capturing the right amount of dominance and power. Whilst the verses use the main melody, the song’s chorus uses a new keyboard melody, giving the song a greatly melodic backing as the lead vocal soars over the top. A great and fitting piano solo is also included in the track twice, creating some great atmosphere with the backing instrumentation, where the second time is extended with a fine keyboard solo, added for good measure. Whilst the main melody is certainly performed under an unusual sound, the entire song’s instrumentation works nicely in creating a more lively synth-pop track but not without keeping the album’s light sound. The song’s strong lyrics seemingly speak of those kind of people who go through life like one big party, always having a good time, where the singer of the song can’t help but wish to join them, and escape the ‘solitary cell’ of the working daytime lifestyle. Overall, an excellent track with a great melodic sound, brilliant vocals, fitting lyrics and strong instrumentation throughout. “The wings of money carry younger men to the goal of a life, don't you know where they're going to, if they won't sing another tune? Cause when the night is over, back in a solitary cell, there is a reason here to find cause I've been wasting time, wasting the years. Crazy life, yes they show us crazy life…”

When Love is the Missing Word is undoubtedly a highlight track, showing the duo at their finest. The fantastic track was written by Thiers and Hirschburger. The song immediately opens with some fine piano and nice synthesizer drones, before the piano begins the song’s great main melody. Thiers’ vocal is guided by the drones and solid rhythm section through the verses, where he gives a fantastic and fitting vocal performance. The song’s chorus is a fine moment of synth-pop, where the backing keyboard melody works perfectly with Thiers’ vocal performance, which casts the song’s lyrical message nicely. For the two solo sections, the melodic piano is the dominant instrument, whilst some fitting backing vocal is used in the final chorus section. What makes this song noticeably strong is how all instruments and layers work together flawlessly, where even the production is glossy and strong, without sounding out-of-place through over-production. The song’s melodic approach remains strong throughout, whilst Thiers’ vocal gives the song a unique and memorable sound. Lyrically, the song is open to individual interpretation, where the singer seemingly speaks of his wide range of confused and mixed feelings when it comes to his relationship or love, where he asks for a way forward when love is missing. Overall, an excellent track with some great vocal, brilliant instrumentation, strong lyrics and nice atmosphere. “Said I'd try to be alone, I didn't know my real inside, the sun went down, I'm overflown by need, ooh yeah. Can't find the time, I can't find the line, and it brings me back to earth, I can hear what somebody's saying. When love is the missing word, tell me where you go from here…”

Waterfall is a beautifully atmospheric synth-pop track that lasts a duration of almost six and a half minutes, written by Cretu, Thiers and Hirschburger. Opening with some solid percussion, the song’s atmospheric keyboards soon join, carving a nice and peaceful melody. Theirs’ vocal soon joins, and naturally fits effectively with the song’s atmospheric sound through his high vocal. As the song progresses, various sounds make an appearance in places, keeping the song interesting. The song’s vocal sections flow along together so that the chorus and verses fit together as one. The song’s first solo section highlights a fine keyboard layer that plays in the backdrop without being dominant, and therefore continuing the song’s atmospheric nature. For the next vocal section, some strong choir backing vocals from the London Gospel Center Choir are added along with Thiers’ vocal, who soon after perform some great harmonic backing vocal too. The next solo section sees Theirs’ vocal fade, followed by the instrumental section that highlights the atmospheric drones and some waterfall/bird sound effects, all adding to the mood of the song. The remainder of the track features Theirs’ sole vocal, followed by the choir joining in and soon taking over the vocal altogether as the song fades out. Lyrically, the song speaks metaphorical of a waterfall that brings purity and overall good to the singer’s life, fitting with the song’s sound nicely. Overall, a fine atmospheric track, highlighting some great instrumentation, wonderful mood, strong vocal and the nice addition of the backing choir. “Waterfall, you keep on flowing, waterfall, you're filling up the tides. Waterfall and she was crying, cause when you soothe me, it makes the tides go by. So many times I laid beside you, now I got a mind to make another start cause when I'll be aching for love, someone's about to find you, and I will feel for you in another time…”

Captain Right is a strong synth-pop song that also uses some fitting acoustic guitar backing, written by Cretu, Thiers and Hirschburger. The song immediately opens with the strong acoustic backing and keyboard, where Thiers’ vocal soon joins over the same sound. Thiers’ vocal is excellent through this section, whilst the chorus follows with the use of a more dominant rhythm section and a hint of backing vocal, both working effectively. For the second part of the chorus, Theirs’ vocal is fantastically effective over some strong guitar licks and at one point in the section, a dominant keyboard sound. A strong solo section highlights some fine keyboard, creating another memorable section of the great song, whilst the track itself closes nicely with the final chorus. The song manages to mix everything from the vocal to the acoustic guitar perfectly, creating a strong track from start to finish, and undoubtedly a highlight of the album. Lyrically, the song is once again open to individual interpretation although the song does speak of a certain man under the name ‘Captain Right’, where the singer of the song explains that he will be on his side when is in need, also questioning the man about certain things he does which perhaps seem a little odd. Overall, an excellent track with some fantastic vocal, strong instrumentation, great lyrics, a memorable chorus and some flawless production. “Captain Right, watch inside, may I witness you got something to hide tonight. Captain Right, what's your life? Doing business all the time with a smile. And when you're telling me I got no choice I'm telling all you leave behind, Captain Right, watch inside, just awake from your convenient night…”

200 Ways to Heaven is another stand-out track that follows the album’s nice mix between memorable synth-pop and an atmospheric sound. The song was written by Thiers, Cretu and Hirschburger, with the song opening through a nice mix of synthesizer drones, keyboard and fine piano. A strong rhythm section soon replaces the sound, using a solid keyboard riff. The verses are performed with this sound, where Thiers’ gives a strong vocal. A pre-chorus builds the song up further by adding a backing keyboard layer, but the chorus itself is the highlight of the song. The chorus uses a wonderful mix of atmospheric keyboard, strong guitar licks, Theirs’ perfectly fitting vocal and some solid backing vocal. A second part of the chorus uses backing acoustic guitar as Theirs’ continues to give a strong vocal. Although no main solo section is used during the track, the main piano melody does return after the first chorus for a nice moment. Much like the previous track, the duo manages to mix everything within the song perfectly, creating a fine album track from start to finish. Lyrically, the song is again open to individual interpretation, where the song speaks of being strong, relating it to some people who try to bring the person down. The song speaks of closing the door for one desire, whilst the chorus speaks of hiding away from the crime that the person has seemingly committed. Overall, another excellent track with some great vocal, strong instrumentation, a fantastic chorus, nice atmosphere and more fine production. “Present the formula, cause you've been wrong so far, and just be stronger. I know they'll ask for more, but you will close the door for one desire. 200 ways to heaven (we are the generation, we represent the nation)…”

Don't Say You Love Me (Let Me Feel It) is another highlight of the album, a fantastic synth-pop song that once again combines memorable synth-pop with an atmospheric sound, written by Thiers and Hirschburger. The song opens with some strong synthesizer drones, a backing keyboard melody that mixes with the drones and a solid rhythm section, where the bass is more dominant than the percussion. Using this sound, the verses feature some fine lead vocal from Thiers’, both clear and fitting. A pre-chorus continues the lyrical message whilst the song’s chorus uses a more lively rhythm section and a solid keyboard sound in places, but most importantly Thiers’ soaring but not too dominant vocal. The lead vocal itself sometimes features almost spoken-like lines during the verses and pre-chorus, which works fantastically well with the instrumentation. A solid solo section highlights an interesting sounding keyboard layer. Although the song itself doesn’t use a dominant and powering melody, it still manages to be perfectly infectious, making the song very strong throughout. Lyrically, the song’s verses/pre-choruses could be down to individual interpretation where the singer speaks of his relationship in an open-minded fashion, whilst the chorus, relating to the title, shows the singer’s wish to be able to actually feel the love she says she has for him. Overall, another excellent track with some fantastic vocal, strong instrumentation, a memorable chorus and some great lyrics. “I used to cry for relief just the way that I wanted, you've been too fine to believe in these words today, I'll let you hear them once again. Don't say you love me, let me feel it, don't stop to face it cause we know it so well…”

The album’s closing track is Snowin' Under My Skin, a very atmospheric track and like Waterfall, the track also lasts almost six and a half minutes. It was written by Thiers, Cretu and Hirschburger, featuring atmospheric synthesizer drones as the dominant instrument throughout. The song opens with the synthesizer drones, simple percussion and some fitting lead piano, which is shortly replaced by melodic keyboard. The vocal starts with the chorus, where Thiers gives a strong vocal performance, mixing with the atmospheric theme nicely over the drones and backing instrumentation. A nice piano solo section follows the first vocal section, whilst after anoher chorus, a new alternate vocal section uses some almost spoken-like vocal, whilst the next part uses whispering backing vocal over Thiers’ vocal. After the final chorus, an unexpected build-up follows a short piano section. This build in the sound uses a dominant keyboard layer and stronger percussion, with the piano joining shortly after, until the song fitting fades out. Like Waterfall, the track does well in keeping the atmospheric sound intact throughout and works very well as an album closer. Lyrically, the song speaks of someone who is in love, where their emotions feel like it’s snowing under their skin. In 1999, the song was covered by Jamaican musician and vocalist Andru Donalds, on his album of the same name, which was also produced by Cretu. Overall, a fitting album closer with some great instrumentation, strong vocals, nice atmosphere and good lyrics. “You see the child inside the man, you keep my life in hands, my one and only chance. And every word becomes a kiss, reminds me of your face, it's you I can't replace. I feel it snowing under my skin, there will be patience over again, I feel it snowing under my skin, that's what it means to love…”

Album Background


Upon release, Belle Epoque was commercially unsuccessful, failing to chart in any of the European countries it was released in. Not released in the UK or America, the album mainly aimed at Germany and numerous other European countries instead. The album’s lead single was When Love is the Missing Word which failed to make any impact, despite a TV performance on national German TV. Don't Say You Love Me (Let Me Feel It) followed as the second single in 1988, which despite a music video, the song failed to chart. A somewhat odd and unexpected released followed in 1993, where Captain Right was issued as a German only single, again failing to make an impact. The duo’s excellent non-album cover of School’s Out was also released in 1987 and even with a music video, it failed to chart too. Today, Cretu fans are often critically positive of the album, whilst the song’s lead single in particular has gained an audience. On YouTube today, various tracks from the album have gained thousands of views. Sadly, the duo would not continue any further after the album, although this may have been the same way, even if the album had been a success. Unfortunately, Cretu and Thiers never worked together again which is also a great shame.

Conclusion


I highly recommend this album to any fan of 80s pop, 80s synth-pop or electronic music from the time. The entire album nicely combines some great synth-pop numbers with some more atmospheric ones. Whilst Cretu’s performance as the musician and producer is excellent, Thiers is also able to showcase his vocal talent. Not deserving of the failure it had, the album is fortunately given some attention today but it still remains vastly underrated on the whole. The production from Cretu throughout is fantastic, polished and perfectly fitting with the album’s sound and theme. Fortunately, the album is still in print and available today, where it can be found online for under £10. One slight shame is that the School’s Out cover wasn’t included on the album as that would bring the album up to 40 minutes instead of 37 in total. Other than the album and the School’s Out cover, two other songs exist, an instrumental of When Love is the Missing Word which was the b-side to the lead single, and also the instrumental Collage which was a version of Snowin' Under My Skin, issued as the b-side to School’s Out. Despite the undeserving failure, Belle Epoque remains a strong piece of synth-pop work through Cretu’s excellent talent as a musician and producer, as well as Thiers’ fitting vocal talent.

I have made a preview of each track available via Youtube which gives a good feel for each song on the album: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi6SUrVh4lY

Track Listing


1. Mona Lisa (Cretu; Thiers; Hirschburger) - 4:31
2. Crazy Life (Thiers; Hirschburger) - 3:43
3. When Love is the Missing Word (Thiers; Hirschburger) - 3:59
4. Waterfall (Cretu; Thiers; Hirschburger) - 6:20
5. Captain Right (Cretu; Thiers; Hirschburger) - 3:49
6. 200 Ways to Heaven (Thiers; Cretu; Hirschburger) - 4:03
7. Don't Say You Love Me (Let Me Feel It) (Thiers; Hirschburger) - 4:09
8. Snowin' Under My Skin (Thiers; Cretu; Hirschburger) - 6:17

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Comments on this review

  • Mac83 published 23/06/2012
    E rev
  • tb240904 published 10/06/2012
    Brilliant review.
  • jonathanb published 07/06/2012
    I'm not familiar with Cretu's work in any of its incarnations, but as a fan of quality electronic music I think I'd enjoy this album.
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Product Information : Belle Epoque - Cretu & Thiers

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Sub Genre: '80s

EAN: 0766483554026

Original Release Year: 1988

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