Jean LeLoup is québécois rock royalty. He is a singular star in the francophone world, and well, if you wander certain Montréal neighbourhoods, you will see him out and about. I used to run into him at the grocery store. Nearly everyone in the city has a Jean LeLoup story. For over 30 years, he has been rocking out, and writing some of the best songs to ever come out of La belle province. He’s 58 years old now, which is kind of mind-boggling. But I guess we all get old.
LeLoup, which means ‘The Wolf,’ is a stage name (his name is actually Jean Leclerc) put out his first album, Menteur (liar), 30 years ago, in 1989. For me, it was his second album, L’amour est sans pitié (love is without pity) where I got hooked. Le dôme (the dome) followed in 1996 with the epic video for the track ‘Johnny Go’.
‘La vie est laide’ (life is ugly) remains one of my favourite tracks of all-time, and comes from his 1998 album, Les Fourmis (the ants).
Since then, he has released a string of mostly excellent albums, including his last one, 2016’s À Paradis City, which was semi-acoustic and easily his best since the early 90s.
So here, we get Johnny the Wolf (as he prefers to translate his name) and his guitar, unplugged. By himself, for the first time in his long career. At first blush, I find acoustic singer-songwriter music to be boring. One of my great problems with music is my dislike for the acoustic guitar, despite the fact that the acoustic guitar is a wonderfully diverse and brilliant instrument. And despite the fact that many of my favourite songs are based on acoustic guitars, like the epic ‘Jane Says,’ by Jane’s Addiction. True story: at the Pixies reunion tour, when it passed through Montréal back in 2004, when they started up my favourite song, ‘Where Is My Mind?’, a part of me groaned when Black Francis picked up the acoustic for that opening riff. And so, despite my initial dismissal of L’étrange pays, I have gone back to it a few times.
What have I found? Well, the first is Jean LeLoup is a singular artist. He is also an unmistakeable voice, no matter which language he sings in. And, ultimately, when Jean LeLoup pulls out the acoustic and sends the band away, the results are brilliant. This is in part due to his innate ability to write the perfect guitar hook. So we immediately have something to hang the song upon. And his voice, well, there is that. He sings in a way that no other québécois, or Anglo Canadian, singer does. A mixture of a cascade of words and gentleness.
And on this song cycle, he returns to familiar LeLoupian themes of life and death, immortality. ‘Le temps’ is my favourite track, starting as it does with a wicked hook and guitar loop. And here, we get the cycle of life as a tired skeleton and Old Man Time have a conversation.
Opening track ‘Le mentier’ is a dirge on the fakeness of human society. For a guy who claims he has carried his guitar all of his life to avoid having to fit in, this is a startling track.