by Chiara Jurczak
Belgian singer-songwriter and rapper Stromae’s latest album, Multitude, is everything his fans deserve and more after the long wait since his last studio release, Racine Carré, in 2013. The new album is a perfect combination of classic Stromae-style production and innovative (and at times somewhat strange) instrumentation. Multitude gets its name from his desire to channel different voices and cultural perspectives into his music. In an interview with Spotify, Stromae said that the name was due to the album’s “influences that come from all over the globe and that are varied, multiple.” The artist certainly seems to have pulled through on that end, as he’s included folk music, Afro-pop, the erhu (a Chinese string instrument), and Bulgarian choirs on the album. His production talents shine through in his ability to make these dissimilar influences a symphony of sounds rather than a cacophony of noise.
The other side of the Multitude coin comes from the singer’s penchant for storytelling via different characters. In this album, as in his last, Stromae manages to give life to the lyrics he sings. His ability to put into (at times crass and unfiltered) words the emotions which characterize the common human experience, and lay these raw, soul-touching words to the beat of a song you could dance to in a club, are what have made Stromae one of the biggest stars of the Francophonie, and even global music scene. This ability is demonstrated in Multitude, a collection of songs that reflect Stromae’s recent struggles with malaria, burnout, and ill health. Despite describing his feelings of depression and sickness in detail, however, the theme of the album seems to exude a final note of gratitude and a positive outlook on the world. Many of Stromae’s songs could be interpreted in a multitude of ways, giving his fans the versatility which they have come to expect and cherish from his work.
The album consists of 12 tracks, each a masterpiece in its own right. Stromae uses a mix of positive and negative imagery to weave together a tapestry of his mind, with different themes being reflected via the use of parallel lyrics, melodies, and instruments. He begins the album with “Invaincu” (Undefeated), which feels like the ultimate “f-you” anthem to all of his insecurities and struggles. What sounds like an African chant of glory and victory crowds the background of the track, as Stromae sings, “As long as I’m alive, I’m undefeated.” An African chant also appears later in the album on the track “L’enfer” (Hell), this time sounding much more like a cry of mourning, to lay the ground for his lyrical admission, “I’ve considered suicide a few times / And I’m not proud of it / Sometimes you feel it’d be the only way to silence them / All these thoughts putting me through hell.”
This same parallelism is most evident at the end of the album with the two last tracks, “Mauvaise journée” (Bad Day) and “Bonne Journée” (Good Day). Obviously the link between the two songs is reflected in their opposite titles, but Stromae includes it in the parallel structure of the lyrics as well. In “Mauvaise journée” he sings, “There’s my poo that ended badly / I’m going to have to scrub for an hour and a half,” while in “Bonne Journée,” he raps, “The poop is perfect / I do not even need to wipe it.” While a bit comical and vulgar, these lyrics and the way in which they have been placed opposite one another perfectly illustrate the message that shines through the album. As Stromae sings about themes like the struggles of love in “Mon amour” (My Love) and “C’est que du bonheur” (It’s Only Happiness), family in “Fils de joie” (Son of Joy) or even mental and physical health struggles in “Santé” (Cheers) and “L’enfer,” the central idea seems to be the same: life is composed of many moments of struggle, but just as many opportunities for joy. Stromae seems to be showing his audience the ways in which one can view the world differently based on the lens they adopt. You can choose to have a bad day or a good day, depending on how you view the most mundane of tasks, such as wiping and cleaning yourself.
Multitude is an excellent album that is well worth the years of hiatus it took for Stromae to get here. The artist has not lost his touch for creative and entrancing songwriting and producing; his desire to explore and incorporate different styles of music in his work can only lead to bigger and more exciting projects in the future.