The Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus is back in town! Franck Carducci and the Fantastic Squad are currently touring with their unique brand of captivating, infectious rock, scintillating playing and entertaining over the top showmanship… so that seems like a really good time to look at their recent live album, The Answer Live.
This will not be a detailed review of each song – it’s a live album after all, with the majority of songs already available on Franck’s previous albums. Besides, Franck Carducci’s music is not about chin-stroking analysis or a search for deeper meaning. Just listen to the thrilling rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster which is the fun filled ecstasy of Alice’s Eerie Dream, dripping with Alice Cooper style excess, crunching riffs and thrilling solos (and some memorable pantomime ‘visuals’ when seen live!) – you don’t need to think deeply about it, just get on board and enjoy the ride!
Franck Carducci has overhauled his band since releasing their last studio album, The Answer in 2019. The wonderful Mary Reynaud remains – how could she not be with her great vocals, guitar playing and sheer stage presence? Franck’s previous band were a high-class rock outfit already, but it appears he has recruited a precociously talented and even more flamboyant set of rock minstrels to join him in his carnival of rock excess. This is a band which tours relentlessly across Europe, and when you see and hear them you know that this is a highly polished and tight live band, led so imperiously by the Mad Hatter himself, Franck Carducci. This album was recorded at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer, Netherlands in September 2022, and the sound production is excellent. This album features four songs from The Answer, kicking off with the ’70s style hippy musings of (Love is) The Answer which is a relatively calm way to set the scene, and shows Franck and his band’s more contemplative side, albeit with a rocky edge.
Franck’s voice does seem to struggle a bit towards the end of this opening song, after a long tour, but this is live music after all (and really not a major issue as this is generally an impressive start to the show and his voice soon warms up sweetly). Mary Reynaud takes up the singing on Closer to Irreversible, which featured Steve Hackett on the album version, one of three songs from 2015’s great Torn Apart album. Mercurial guitarist Barth Sky imprints his own dazzling style on the song, as he does all night. The two other Torn Apart songs, A Brief Tale of Time and Torn Apart, are particular highlights of the show, with the jangling Beatle-esque A Brief Tale of Time utilising joyously playful organ and some gorgeous harmony vocals from Franck and Mary, casting rays of sunlight into the gig as the crowd claps along. In contrast, Torn Apart crashes in on a wave of deeply satisfying electric guitar riffing over some glorious keyboards, all riding along on the rhythmic thunder of drumming from the remarkable Lea Fernandez and Franck’s lithe bass playing. This is a band which really knows how to ROCK!
Franck Carducci and the Fantastic Squad are not all just about loud rock and roll – they can also be far more restrained, subtle and delicate as Franck shows with a beautifully sung acoustic number Beautiful Night. This is followed by The Angel, one of the two songs here which do not feature on any studio album. Franck sometimes likes to ‘road test’ songs in concert and hone them before they go on an album. In truth, The Angel is mainly a showcase for the vocal and terpsichorean skills of Mary Reynaud as she vocally leads on this sultry number, and in concert she unfurls an amazing set of lighted wings which she swirls around to beautiful and spectacular effect. Needless to say, that is not evident on a CD/Download, but let me assure you that this a spectacle very much worth seeing in concert. Mary’s performance is breathtaking with such a simple yet dazzling effect and dance.
It is perhaps the new songs not yet released on albums which will make this live album of more interest to some fans and The Betrayal of Blue really stands out here as a powerful lament about ‘how the Earth was betrayed by men’. A heartfelt acoustic opening builds with more intensity and after about two-minutes the full power of this remarkable piece is unleashed with a crunching guitar riff and a sizzling keyboard solo, all against a tsunami of drums from the mighty Fernandez – it’s exciting stuff to set the pulses racing. Franck features on bass so fluidly as the band rolls into the middle section with the incredible Barth Sky laying out a short but blistering guitar solo, which is all a preamble in the show for a trademark performance by Mary Reynaud on the theremin, supported by a Pink Floyd like piano accompaniment by Cedric Selzer. There is something eerie and melancholic about these otherworldly sounds from Reynaud, and this is yet another reason to see this incredible band live if you can.
This live album is finished with such a powerful trio of songs, particularly the aforementioned brilliant Alice’s Eerie Dream; such a fantastic showstopper, it is hard imagining Franck ever being able to drop this from the setlist, brimming over with great instrumental virtuosity and memorable melodies and hooks. However, it is the memorable and rather ‘saucy’ pantomime (with tongue very firmly in cheek!) that goes with this song which is a real highlight of their shows. Two fine songs from The Answer complete this set (although the actual shows are longer, but to fit onto one CD the setlist has been shortened) with the Supertramp inspired Asylum, although I doubt Supertramp ever rocked as hard as this song, with references to ‘Jimmy Cream’ from their song of the same name on the Crime of the Century album. The ‘Asylum’ references also echo One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, including the proverbial cuckoo and its nest, alongside mentioning the ‘Martini’ character, so memorably played by Danny DeVito in the movie. Amidst the musical mayhem in this rock circus it also seems that Franck Carducci and his band can make insightful social points with this rocking, satirical song:
No, no one escapes the asylum, and no one minds to care!”
The final song on the album is Slave to Rock ‘n’ Roll, a straight ahead accessible heavy rock song with earworm hooks and fantastic rocking riffs – just a spectacular way to end the show.
Subtle this album ain’t, but it is SO entertaining. If you have seen Franck Carducci and his amazing band live then this great live album is a superb way to remember those gigs. Literally everyone I know who had not seen them, or did not know them, previously, but got to see them has been completely blown away by what they have heard and seen. If you have not yet seen Franck and his rock troubadors, or are unable to see them, then this is a perfect way to hear what great performers they are as a band – it’s just great fun.
So it’s a mighty big Hat’s Off to the French Mad Hatter and his Fantastic Squad for an outstanding live album. Of course, as great as this live album is, if you REALLY want to see what I mean I strongly advise you to get off your backsides and go and see them live in action. You can thank me later – you’ll love ’em!
Love is definitely The Answer… that’s always the RIGHT Answer.
01. (Love is) The Answer (8:10)
02. Closer to Irreversible (5:17)
03. The Betrayal of Blue (10:28)
04. A Brief Tale of Time (4:31)
05. Beautiful Night (4:01)
06. The Angel (8:20)
07. Torn Apart (6:52)
08. Alice’s Eerie Dream (12:08)
09. Asylum (10:22)
10. Slave to Rock ‘n’ Roll (5:48)
~ Bonus Track (Digital Only):
11. Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jeckyll (7:51)
Total Time – 83:48
Franck Carducci – Vocals, Bass Guitar, 6 & 12-string Guitars
Mary Reynaud – Vocals, 12-string Guitar, Theremin
Barth Sky – Electric Guitar, Vocals
Lea Fernandez – Drums
Cedric Selzer – Keyboards, Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 6th May 2023
– Oddity (2011)
– Torn Apart (2015)
– Tearing the Tour Apart (2016)
– The Answer (2019)
– The Answer Live (2023)