Stromae might not be a household name but his music is universally adored. 2010’s chirpy EDM banger ‘Alors On Dance’ topped the charts in 19 countries while a second album ‘Racine Carrée’ three years later proved that the Belgian singer/songwriter was far more than a one-hit wonder.
With uptempo dance tracks that tackled everything from the Rwandan genocide that killed his father (‘Papaoutai’) and lazy gender stereotypes (‘Tous Les Memes’), Paul Van Haver’s raw, and emotional music saw him collaborating with Lorde on ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’ soundtrack and bringing out Kanye West at Coachella 2015. Later that year, however, he cancelled tour dates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital Kinshasa and Kigali in Rwanda, due to “an adverse reaction to anti-malaria medicine”. In the seven years that followed, he largely avoided the spotlight save for an appearance with Coldplay (on ‘Arabesque’ from 2019’s ‘Everyday Life’) and helping out behind-the-scenes with videos from Dua Lipa (‘IDGAF’) and Billie Eilish (‘Hostage’).
That said, new album ‘Multitude’ isn’t a tentative step back onto the global stage. After announcing his return at the start of the year by performing candid lead single ‘L’enfer’ in response to a question about his mental health during an interview on a French news programme, the rest of ‘Multitude’ is just as dramatic, veering from hyperactive europop to pulsating reggaeton and dreamy hip-hop.
Opener ‘Invaincu’ is a powerful track about survival, powered by triumphant beats:“as long as I’m alive,” Haver sings, “I’m undefeated”. The squeaky synths of ‘Santé’ meanwhile see Stromae raising a glass to the under-appreciated and underpaid essential workers that carried on throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout ‘Multitude’, Stromae frequently plays with character (the bubbling rage of ‘Fils De Joie’ sees Haver taking on the role of the son of a sex worker) but it’s never cartoonish. Instead, tracks like the deliberate ‘Déclaration’ explore gender roles in parenthood (“It’s still a better deal to be a bastard than a slut”) while the vulnerable cinema of ‘L’enfer’ balances depression and loneliness with knowing he’s not the only one who sometimes feels that low.
As intricate and affecting as the wordplay is, you don’t need to speak French to feel the emotional heft Stromae loads into each of ‘Multitude’s tracks. The vocals are as limber as the glitching, swaying soundscapes and the whole album is a mesmerising listen that constantly surprises. It even ends with a glass-half-full banger ‘Bonne Journée’, which sees Haver choosing joy. 12 years after his breakout hit encouraged the world to take to the dancefloor to forget their problems, Stromae is back to get people moving once more.
Release date: March 4
Release label: Darkroom/Interscope