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Best Off/Zulu Rock

: Best Off/Zulu Rock

Release Date:2006

By Kevin O’Donnell | Posted 7/12/2006

Like many of her punk peers, Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s early history reads like a big, fat, romantic cliché. After dropping out of a French art school, she traveled to New York in 1975, became chummy with luminaries like Patti Smith, and released a record on the no-wave label Ze Records in 1979 that no one noticed. But Descloux had ambition, as if following some secret calling, and two new releases—a compilation and a reissue—show that her fascination with scenes stretched far beyond the insularity of downtown Manhattan.

Best Off is a very necessary greatest hits collection. Though it kicks off with a banging dance-floor rendition of Arthur Brown’s psych-rock classic “Fire,” the collection never returns to such booty-shaking heights. Instead, it highlights Descloux’s experiments with genre, from goofy avant-rock to slick ’80s R&B. Though hardly schlocky in Descloux’s hands, “The Long Goodbye” is still the type of dignified piano ballad that Celine Dion could turn into a cloying Top 40 smash.

But 1984’s Zulu Rock—originally titled Mais Où Sont Passées Les Gazelles—is Descloux’s legacy. The title song, Descloux’s only “hit,” is a breezy tune punctuated by an African chorus ululating what translates as “where did all the gazelles go?” Though Zulu Rock’s Westernized Afro-pop may remind you of Paul Simon’s Graceland, Descloux, for whatever it’s worth, beat Simon by a good two years, and did so with a punky élan. Sadly, Descloux eventually abandoned her music career in the mid-’90s and died from cancer in 2004. She’s probably destined to remain a footnote, but you’ll always be able to play one of her records and have a friend ask in excited surprise, “Who is this?”

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