Carte blanche: ‘Multitude’ dialogues Stromae’s magnetic, sundry evolution

Photo of the Stromae album cover
Mosaert Label/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

“I talk a lot about poop and pooping in general on this album,” Paul Van Haver laughingly told The Guardian. “I wanted to give another point of view.” The Belgian-born Francophone and singer-songwriter — known on the international stage as Stromae — doesn’t exaggerate: Scatological lyrics are rampant on Multitude, which was released March 4. In it, feces becomes poetically symbolic within Stromae’s lyrical investigations of fatherhood, maturation and depression, each explored with poignancy and sincerity.

Stromae’s recent eight-year hiatus was a muttering ellipsis, trailing only music video credits and abrupt singles in the wake of the captivating LP Racine Carrée, released in 2013. Now emerging from a noiseless void, his return with Multitude cleaves his protracted, punctuated silence with artistic transmogrification, foregrounding the human condition with transcendental sonic variety. 

The record materializes with the murmuring beginnings of its opening track, “Invaincu,” where wobbly synth heralds a chorale of whispery vocals. Echoing crescendos adorn its sonorous explorations of malady and recovery. Interspersed by a punting beat and pulsating, emphatic rap, its sliding strings dissolve ephemerally into lead single “Santé,” a lurching, warbly celebration of essential workers. Lumbering and syncopated, it’s a pandemic-era tribute constructed through rhythmic delay mingling with Stromae’s deep and foraging voice. 

He’s not afraid to invert focus from the external world to probe the internal landscape of his psyche. “L’enfer” is an honesty-draped, vulnerable diary detailing the singer’s grapple with suicidal thoughts, unveiling stripped vocals against a sparse canvas of plodding, melancholic piano. The reverberating chorus careens into an explosive interlude of muted drums, choir-buoyed melodies and a fizzle of electronic haze — a cathartic auguring that ebbs as quickly as it surfaces. Dark aural colors slide over Stromae’s voice; “Ces pensées qui nous font vivre un enfer” (“All these thoughts putting me through hell”), he sings in French, baring both soul and teeth in the track’s gritted, white-knuckled ruminations. 

Multitude strikes fiercely with its narrative-driven melodies, each focalizing interpersonal relationships and pedestaling the human experience. Warping and brutally soft behind Stromae’s croony falsetto, “La Solassitude” contemplates a beleaguered inamorato’s isolation and love-provoked exhaustion in the depths of its folding harmonies. The album’s ninth track, “Mon Amour,” similarly features suave, lustrous euphony to mimic the inveigling bargains of an unfaithful partner searching for pardon. By extension, “Fils de joie” frames a complex filial kinship with hair-breadth silences between operalike spirals and grating strings. 

The album is a stark departure from Stromae’s trademark electrical, addictive verve. Multitude is no refuge for the club-banger vibes of 2010 international hit “Alors on danse,” nor the electronic gravity of “Papaoutai.” Rather, it’s a graduation marked by a beguiling survey of the world from Brussels. The reaches of the album’s international inspirations are wide: Stromae enlists a diverse range of global instrumentalists, among those are Chinese erhu virtuoso Guo Gan and Bolivian charangoist Alfredo Coca.

The multiplicity of Stromae’s instrumentation, however, isn’t quite salvation. Beyond the contentious cultural nuances of fusing traditional folklore with the contemporary, globalized music market, Multitude’s thrilling plasticity is neutralized by its fidelity to both familiar pop rhythms and haphazard topical cohesion. Its erratic thematic explorations are so extensive in purview that the record oftentimes masquerades as three albums in a trench coat rather than one — or perhaps this turbulent variability is titularly inherent. Multitude is, quite simply, multitudinous in content.

There’s something to commend, though, about Stromae’s ability to resonate with a wide-ranging audience when confronted with language barriers. Lyrics aside, his sound remains deeply connective, reflecting an idiosyncratic artist when stripped to its pure musical essence. 

Love, life, politics and defecation — all are cradled in the album’s motley synthesis of courageous sound, and even excrement is handled with the pointed, measured elegance of Stromae’s sweeping artistry. His newfound sound adopts a dusky, anguish-rife undercurrent that wraps depth-decorated acoustics over its lyrical ponderings, revealing pearls of optimism under its veneer of austerity. 

When drawn to full breath, Multitude is an album that not only seeks versatility but chases reinvention with candor, widening in scope to illuminate its creator’s openhearted creativity and musical finesse. 

Contact Esther Huang at [email protected].