Album Review

The mellowing of an angry punk?

June 7, 2010

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Where did the French-Algerian punk rebel go? The cover art to “Bonjour’’ finds Rachid Taha emerging from a garland of roses in a garish pink and yellow tableau. A first song called “Je t’aime mon amour’’ and a title track that actually begins with the words “Hello Kitty’’ confirm that Taha — apostle of gritty, angry Arab punk from the hard Lyon suburbs — is onto . . . well, something new.

Irony? Apparently not. Perhaps mellowed with age, Taha seems in a genuinely good mood with a new soundscape to match, devised by French pop producer Gaëtan Roussel, who replaces longtime collaborator Steve Hillage.

And strangely, it works. Singing mostly in Arabic, Taha offers more diverse sounds — an electro touch here, an industrial vibe there — than on any single previous record. “Ha Baby’’ (a pun on “habibi,’’ or “dear one’’) is billed as a fusion with country music; perhaps, but it’s certainly a pretty pop song.

As the album settles in, evidence accrues that this Taha is not all that alien from the one we’ve known and loved. The deft mandolin of Hakim Hamadouche carries over from previous work, keeping the Arab roots visible. And “Sélu’’ is a classic Taha scorcher, a headlong rush with shout-outs to political influences like Frantz Fanon.

It’s all over very fast: nine songs, 34 minutes. Taha has earned his stripes many times over, but one hopes he’ll be more generous next time. (Out tomorrow.) SIDDHARTHA MITTER