I seem to remember that that title is a Chinese proverb about fools missing the point: presumably this is a warning that Edwige is pointing to somewhere interesting, and that if you pay too much attention to the way she does it then you’ll miss the why. Certainly you can get sidetracked by trying to pigeonhole her music. Like any city-smart pigeon, it struggles and flits away from capture.
So what is this? It’s folky, but with at least one eye trained above the treetops. It’s French but it isn’t (despite the accent and the chanson/cabaret flutter, Edwige is London-based and Anglophone, aligned to the world in general, and open to angels). It’s poppy, but salted with the ascerbic willpower of a woman who’s lived long enough to have her own individual way of doing things. And while she’ll welcome fellow travellers, she’s confident enough not to be too worried about whether you go along with it or not. I think I like that.
It brings back a memory, too. When I was about fourteen, one of the key albums for my raging, hormonal inner life was Kate Bush’s ‘Never For Ever’. I used to have an odd relationship with that record. I’d play it all the time, never sure whether I actually wanted to or not. I remember it felt like a wayward friend on a perpetual mood swing: it was poised on a wobbly adolescent axis of feyness, promise and wisdom, and put me through bouts of frustration and love. How could one album zoom so unpredictably between cutesy kiddie fairy tales and vaginal vamping, between stardust fantasy and nuke-generation fears, vengefulness and nurture? And how could it tangle them all up in such a wayward, compelling way, but still make me want to smack the naivety out of it? No wonder I eventually ended up shoving it in the cupboard and heading for the more straightforward push and bump of indie-pop to soundtrack my later teens.
Many years of The Smiths, The Fall and My Bloody Valentine later, ‘You Show Them The Moon…’ reminds me of that early shamanic Kate Bush girl-pop. It’s not just because those arch, slanting vocals constantly recall ‘Never For Ever’s Coffee Homeground; or because I Am A Temple, from its Nile guitar twang to its waft of desert synth and the aerial-bending vocals, is a ringer for the storybook mystique Bush brought into play on Egypt. OK, Edwige’s music doesn’t carry the same weight of sensual bewitchment. It betrays its budget origins via keyboards that sometimes dip into tweeness and rinky-dink; and by a no-frills recording that sonically cramps her cosmic-tinged imaginings, cramming the cornucopia into a garden shed. But ‘You Show Them The Moon…’ does show the same fascination with the free-flowing mind that’s one of hippydom’s more useful legacies, and it can carry its eccentricity convincingly as well.
A lot of this is to do with Edwige’s voice: a wonderful, peculiar, obliquely beautiful thing. It curves itself round the tones of opera singer, cat purr, wise seductress, vocal trapeze… all with glass-etching clarity and weird ricochets. It’s like a combination of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins and a French Eddi Reader without the gawkiness or the broadsheet approval. Actually, don’t stop there: look towards the Strange And Flamboyant Women In Pop section. In spite of the two-dimensional production, Edwige also pulls off the trick of sounding a bit like Bjork’s long-lost boho auntie. She doesn’t possess Bjork’s genius spark of child-vision, or her way with a contemporary sound (it’s French cafe culture round here, not club culture: you’ll find no beats, samples or Trickies). But she does have that same bungee-elastic vocal yaw – admittedly delivered with Edith Piaf’s brand of declamation, and with the sort of melodies and poised guitar strums that go with ten-foot silk scarfs swirled round swan-necks.
The songs themselves fizz just on the right side of easy listening. They’re frequently soft and fluffy, but with deceptive bends. Each is a moment, polished and expansively lit, in a life that’s become a quest in which there’s no goal but an understanding – an ordinary life illuminated by extraordinary lights. Downtrodden and downbeat on No Shape For Love, Edwige can be revived enough to put on a spiritual throb of benediction for Be Blessed. She’ll caress you with a dedication of warm, supportive love on Serve You Well. She’ll also slap you down with a moment’s notice, scolding and instructing in slightly fractured English. “If I open up my heart, it’s not to please your fantasy… / You think you are my king, you’re just a slave of your own enemy.”
Throughout the album, Edwige slings assorted moods and styles around herself like hula-hoops, keeping a core of determination but remaining free-floating. She will go all Jane Siberry and produce fluffy-edged clouds of electric guitar for The Dearest – a fragile love song where the unselfconscious fairytale imagery teases out a winning pathos. If pushed, she’ll become flamboyant, defiant and unreachable, as she is on I Am A Temple (“don’t you dare pry into my life!”). Yet she’s happy – on If You Were The One – to suddenly ditch the eerie and mystical to trill away on the kind of cosy tap-dancing tearoom jazz that you’d have thought long-lost on 1950s lounge records, or to toss out a dash of Celtic sounds with ‘The Omen’ (Clannad harps and tricky jig-in-a-box/jump-into-the-sea rhythms).
Back in 1999, the original version of this album was also noisier. Edwige occasionally dabbled in a kind of accidental techno, or flew in some famished rock guitars to add roar. For this 2003 reissue, she’s ditched these particular quirks and re-recorded a couple of songs as acoustic versions. Something’s lost when Tune Up All Your Violins has its bull-in-a-china-shop clatter removed, but Edwige, strumming away solo and singing forcefully, still uses it to plunge through cosmic arcana like a costumed hero on her own cryptic spiritual mission. They Won’t Make Me Nervous is shorn of its crashing electric guitars and bendy orchestral fogs of synth, but keeps everything else, including the super-soaring choruses on which Edwige zips and kinks like a skidding comet.
The two songs at each end of the album unfurl Edwige’s searching musical and spiritual ambitions to the full, the instruments coming alive out of their budget politeness and warming the air. To Discover lounges in rich, luxurious music – lazy acoustic guitars, damask curtains of synth – but Edwige’s voice cuts through the slumber like a little silver knife. In the middle of comfort (“thinking love is here forever to remain… / and life has no more to offer than what you already knew”) there are breakdowns and hard lessons ahead: “you still have to discover.” And the climatic grandeur of Stillness suggests that she’s reached some sort of peace, looking back over the terrain of the life-quest with a sympathetic eye.
“You need to be loved, and you need to be told, but there’s no reassurance… / You feed yourself with books and beliefs / and stick on your windshield / pictures and maps / so you won’t see your direction… / And try to get peace rearranging confusion… / Still looking for Eden, El Dorado, still looking for a search / when in the stillness…is home.”
Then The Voice shoots up to ecstatic heights, hits the stars, ignites them in a wave of flame, and sees out the album with an ascending, aspirant note. Edwige is smiling and pirouetting somewhere on the pavement where Parisian cafe music (accordions and sparklers) meets the sussed cosmic chick (tarot, tai-chi and her own flat). Someone get her a decent producer and the space to fling a few more scarves around, and she’ll take us off to a brighter night, where a giant moon is untroubled by idiots pointing and where cats somersault over the chimney pots.
Edwige: ‘You Show Them The Moon And They Look At Your Finger’
Quasar Music, EDW1CD/KCA (634479459061)
Released: 2003 (originally released 1996)