Mesk Elil (Universal Music France, 2005)
A softer, more centered Souad Massi greets us upon our entry to this, her third album. Impending motherhood and her personal development into a major star on the international music scene have resulted in a more upbeat and uplifting set of songs which look at life from sunny side up.
As a confirmed fan of her dour but beautiful back-catalogue this reviewer was more than a little concerned by the development on first listen. But, as I’ve learned from listening to and reviewing thousands of albums, it’s best not to let first impressions last and repeat listening brings many new rewards from a set which includes only one song which comes across as too stylistically remote and cloying. That tune – the title track as it happens – looks back at her childhood (perhaps affected by her current condition) in a rather sentimental and over-indulgent way.
Coming after one of the album’s finest tracks, ilham (inspiration), which dynamically blends the best of Massi’s North African roots with western pop sounds, it’s a minor irritant but easily dealt with by the CD player’s ‘prog’ button.
The 11-song set varies instrumentally from full-on rock-styled accompaniment to the more familiar acoustic ground of Deb and Raoui and gems surface everywhere you look. Manensa asli (I won’t forget my roots), a lovely duet with Real World’s new signing Daby Touré finds Massi in vocally fine form and the more melancholy edge in her work is still present in beautiful ballads such as dar dgedi (my grandfather’s house) and there’s worse.
The third release from an artist usually finds them moving on stylistically and emotionally, which is why it’s often viewed as a tricky moment in an artists career. Title track apart, Souad Massi has succesfully crossed that Rubycon with Mesk Elil.