‘Are you/ As offended when nobody’s watching?/ Are you/ Polite or political/ Are you/ Correct or cynical’
Have an opinion? Left or right, professional or amateur, woke or reactionary, warranted or unsolicited: whatever it may be, Charlotte and Bolis are coming for you on Topical Dancer. And that makes reviewing the album a daunting task for any writer, whether they’re paid for their views or not (to be clear, I’m the latter).
Fortunately there are layers upon layers to unpick here. And this is clear from the get go with the one-two hit of ‘Esperanto’ and ‘Blenda’. To take ‘Blenda’ as an example, there is genius at work here in turning the words ‘go back to your country where you belong’ into an anthem. In the right context (you might reasonably imagine an Adigery-Pupul gig) the power of a crowd chanting these words back will be huge. Indeed, context is integral to this album. I had to check myself when singing these admittedly catchy lines in the office, should the subtleties of said context be lost on members of an HR tribunal. The absurd brilliance of the image of being able to freely dance your arse off and sing along to these words is all the more emphasised by the following rhyme ‘siri can you tell me where I belong?’
Topical Dancer is filled with acute, astute and hilarious observations like these. As promptly as they’ve exposed racist tropes to be the farce that they are, they switch to reduce the opposing stance to the same nonsensical mess: ‘Integrity is my name/ and I do believe you should be ashamed/ how do you love plants and eat them too? / Lose your moral compass in the Starbucks queue’. Charlotte and Bolis have a lot of serious points to make but it’s still damn funny. I’m sure they make many more in French too but my 20 year old GCSE doesn’t stretch that far.
Aside from a ribbing of the most risible aspects of woke culture and an entirely necessary take down of pink faced white men, sexuality is another major theme on Topical Dancer. ‘It Hit Me’ tells of the all the awkwardness of a teenage awakening in a lecherous patriarchy coupled with early forays and failures into the world of dating: ‘The nacho fell into my empty bra / Stefaan ended up, with Nadia’. When you hear these presumably autobiographical experiences retold in song, they seem obvious. Yet, once again, in a male dominated industry full of bravado and tales of sexual success and prowess, as opposed to vulnerability, I’ve never heard these stories told. Not just told but relayed with articulate self-reflective intelligence and humour. It’s a revelatory listening experience. ‘Reappropriate’ and ‘Mantra’ continue this theme, albeit in a less subtle way. It’s more of a stirring call to arms than an understated revisiting of personal memories.
Having dealt with all society’s ills and their personal demons, Char and Bol (we know them well by this point) take on music itself in the tradition of surrealist compatriot René Magritte. ‘Ceci n’est pas in cliché’ brings every overused lyric in the history of popular music together with the arch refrain of ‘I bet this song sounds real familiar’.
And arch is the word once again when we come to the album’s sardonic centrepiece (and penman’s pitfall), ‘Thank You’. But that’s ‘enough, enough, enough, enough, enough, enough, enough about me’.
I told you there was a lot going on on this album. And that’s before I even had the chance to really get stuck into the power this album has to inspire motion. It is dancer as well as topical after all. I recommend some time ruminating with, and moving to, Topical Dancer yourself.
I’ll end with my own reflection by paraphrasing the duo: don’t say ‘only a professional writer is fit for this review’; say ‘at least you tried James’.
Words by James Spearing