It is more or less a tradition in symfo – and gothic metal circles that once certain frontwomen have enough industry clout that they use said leverage to launch a solo career. Liv Kristine Espenæs-Krull (ex-Theatre Of Tragedy, Leaves’ Eyes) set the precedent roughly a decade ago, and later Tarja Turunen (formerly of Finnish export Nightwish) followed to equal international success. “Mon Amour Monique” is the debut solo record from Jamie-Lee Smit, the fastest rising star of the Belgian symfo – and gothic metal scene, who has fronted a number of Brussels-based genre bands in the last decade including Sad Siberia, Skeptical Minds, and more recently Azylya. The last Azylya record was a commercial success leading her to branch out as a solo artist under her own name.
“Mon Amour Monique” consists of ten dreamy pop/rock songs, sounding like Coldplay circa “A Rush Of Blood To the Head” for the most part, that are light and breezy with lyrics in English, and Smit’s native French. Described by the label as a mix of indie rock, and new wave – although the influence of the latter is negligible to say the least. The record is drenched in a very 90s girl power type atmosphere, and likewise has a tangential artistic kinship with female singer-songwriters of the day such as Michelle Branch, and Lene Marlin. While “Mon Amour Monique” is decidedly British its choice of melodies, both the upbeat and introspective songs recall Marlin’s “Lost In A Moment” in various little ways. Subjects, next to love and infatuation, include amongst other things animal suffering, hurt, interpersonal relations, and politics. While the record is written bilingual, Jamie-Lee is expectedly more comfortable writing in her native French.
‘Revivre’ would be an ideal single as it is poppy with a catchy melody. ‘Tara’ sounds like an extention of preceding track ‘Revivre’ than an actual standalone song. ‘Bye Bye You’ has some sultry vocalizations, and some particularly intensive drum beats to complement Smit’s vocals, while being a standard upbeat pop/rock song otherwise. It would be interesting to hear Smit doing her take on the 1969 Serge Gainsbourge/Jane Birkin track ‘Je t’aime… moi non plus’ given her carnal performance in several of the more sensual moments of ‘Bye Bye You’. ‘L’Amour de Freddy’ definitely has potential as a single thanks to its playful bass lines, and otherwise breezy atmosphere. ‘Comme Un Soldat’ is the closest the record comes to having a full-blown ballad. ‘I’m Waiting For My Ghost’ is slightly more rock-oriented than the rest, and a bit more uptempo. As such it is a worthy album closer. The only defect to the record is its insistence on staying at a constant midpace, resulting in the songs of the album’s second half becoming virtually interchangeable. The album is almost too consistent with its chosen style.
The decision to put Smit’s vocals to a light-hearted pop/rock format rather than a laidback lounge/pop one seems an obvious choice. Smit’s vocals are reminiscent of Carmen Elise Espenæs, or Belgian dance singer Kate Ryan to name a more mainstream example, rather than the far silkier sounding (former and current) Hooverphonic frontwomen Noémie Wolfs and Geike Arnaert. Likewise would Jamie-Lee’s straight up rock vocals feel out of place within a lounge-pop context. Unfortunately none of the songs present here allow for Smit to showcase her range, and it would be interesting to see her incorporate more harmonies. The advantage of the record’s breezy direction is that Jamie-Lee Smit (and her assorted writers, and producers) can move into any direction they so desire from this point onward, whether that be pop/rock, or towards a more uplifting vocal-oriented genre such as 90s hitwonder Wilson Phillips.
“Mon Amour Monique” was written and produced by Riccardo Daga, while Smit wrote all the lyrics, and vocal melodies. The album was recorded at Mathlab - and Titans Lab Recording Studio in Italy with Riccardo Daga and Chuck Ford producing. In keeping with the pop format the record is very airy and open in terms of production with audible bass licks, wide open space for the vocals, gentle guitar melodies and fitting basic percussion. Front and center are Jamie-Lee’s soothing vocals, which despite her background in symfo – and gothic metal, aren’t overbearing but more rock-ish in tone and delivery. Why Jamie-Lee Smit was given no creative input in her own solo record is another matter entirely, and it begs the question why this was released under her name in the first place. It is a standard industry practice in mainstream pop music, but it’s hardly the thing one would associate with known metal musicians. Hopefully Jamie-Lee Smit will be allowed input when and if there will be a follow-up to “Mon Amour Monique”.
The choice of album cover is a bit puzzling in what it intends to achieve. On the one hand it intends to convey that “Mon Amour Monique” is a breezy pop/rock record, yet it also wants to remind the listeners that Smit comes from a gothic metal background. The promotional shots of Smit on the beach, in the tiniest Daisy Dukes denim shorts, cowboy boots, and with a heart-warming smile that could melt polar caps, are far more powerful than the bland, and rather dull looking filtered image that ended up being used on the final cover. The filter-less promo shots do Jamie-Lee far more justice than the Instagram cover photo does. Next to that does her model portfolio offer up plenty of viable alternatives that could have been reproduced here. Jamie-Lee Smit is obviously easy on the eyes, but the cover photo hardly uses her evident attractiveness to its advantage.
On the whole “Mon Amour Monique”, released through Epictronic in cooperation with independent Italian symfo/gothic metal-centric label imprint WormHoleDeath Records, has enough mainstream appeal to transcend its metal origins. The record is lighthearted despite its occassionally serious lyrical undertones, and its lack of contrived hooks, vocal or otherwise, make it something that can appeal to both markets simultaneously. At heart it is something of a singer-songwriter album, despite its namesake having no hand in its conception, in the guise of a fragile pop/rock album. That the record commits to nothing except Jamie-Lee Smit’s vocals leaves the door wide open for various explorations within the pop/rock spectrum in the future. It will be interesting to see how Jamie-Lee Smit’s vocals fare within a different pop context, and how the producer duo will adapt itself to creating said environment given their non-mainstream roots.