I started covering Paola & Chiara over a decade ago when I was writing a world music column called Import Zone for Lollipop magazine. (I couldn’t find every column I wrote about them in, but I did manage to find the one with my review of their 2002 album Festival, which you can read here: http://www.lollipop.com/article.php3?content=issue61/importzone.html) But I first became a fan of the Italian sister duo way back in 1998 when I bought their debut album Ci Chimano Bambine on a whim at Tower Records in Boston because the album cover was so colorful, and the girls so beautiful, that I just had to investigate. By the time the first song — “Per Te” — was over, I was already in love with them. It was a gorgeous and super catchy pop rock gem and I was blown away by how well the girls harmonized. It was also the first time I had ever listened to contemporary Italian music and I was very impressed by how well the language flowed. I’d long been a fan of contemporary French and Spanish music, but it had never really occurred to me that Italian music might be equally poetic and pleasing. I could write a very long blog post about my history as a Paola & Chiara fan, but I’m much more interested in telling you about their amazing new album, Giungla (translation: Jungle). Clearly, my review is going to be more of a fanboy rant than a critical piece, so if that’s going to bother you, well, nobody is forcing you to read this. One of the joys of having your own music review website is being able to cover your favorite artists, so I’m not going to apologize for that. That said, I’m quite certain that I would be in love with Giungla even if I wasn’t already a fan of the duo because it’s truly a brilliant album.
Giungla opens with its first single, “Divertiamoci (Perché c’è Feeling)” (Google translation: “Let’s have fun (Because there Feeling)”), which features a rapper named Razza Krasta. I must admit that I was not impressed by this song the first time I heard it. On the contrary, I was horrified. Paola & Chiara had never had anyone guest on any of their albums in the past, nor had any of their songs had hip-hop parts, so I suppose it felt a bit like sacrilege. One of the reasons it bugged me was that Paola & Chiara’s music has always been very feminine, so having a male on one of their songs seemed wrong. Likewise, having a rap on one of their songs felt odd. Plus, Razza Krasta is all over this song. You don’t go even five seconds without hearing him chime in. If he’d simply done a rap verse two thirds into the song like when a hip-hop artist normally appears on a pop song it might not have irked me so much, but I felt like he was taking over Paola & Chiara’s otherwise wonderful song. It felt more like Razza Krasta featuring Paola & Chiara and I felt like they shouldn’t be relinquished to being a guest on their own album. Plus, the song is a dance track, so having rap all over it also made it feel unusual. But it was still a Paola & Chiara song, and their new single no less, so I forced myself to keep listening to it. Gradually, it won me over. Now, yes, I’d go so far as to say that I love it. Is it my favorite song on the album? Definitely not. But I actually think it’s a nice blend of house, pop and hip-hop now and can appreciate it as such. Plus, it’s interesting to hear someone rap in Italian, having never heard an Italian rapper before.
“Divertiamoci (Perché c’è Feeling)” is not the only song on Giungla to feature a rapper. “Tu devi essere pazzo” (Google: “You must be crazy”) features a rap by Moreno, who literally does the entire second half of the song. Paola and Chiara sing the first verse and chorus, but then he raps the following verse — and it’s a rather long one — then they do the chorus together, the women singing while he chimes in with bits of rap at the end of every line. Initially, I disliked the song for all of the reasons “Divertiamoci (Perché c’è Feeling)” hadn’t impressed me at first. The only difference here was that Moreno didn’t rap all over the track, just during the second half. But, yes, I forced myself to keep listening to it and eventually I came to love it. I suppose it also helped that one of the bonus tracks was a version of the song without Moreno, so I at least had the option of listening to the song without him. In any case, I prefer this track over “Divertiamoci” because this one has a slower tempo, the throbbing beats splitting the difference between slick pop and futuristic hip-hop, so the rap doesn’t feel so out of place, whereas “Divertiamoci” is a full-blown dance song. Also, Moreno’s tone and flow remind me of French rapper MC Solaar, whom I’m a big fan of.
Now that I like both songs that feature rappers, I can honestly say that there isn’t a bad song on the album, which was co-produced and arranged by Paola and Chiara with Nicolo Fragile, each song expertly-crafted and rich, leagues above most other pop or dance albums. I should also point out that Paola and Chiara wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, both in terms of the music and the lyrics.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Non c’è me senza te” (Google: “There is no me without you”), which is a gorgeous dance pop song with a bit of a Spanish vibe, calling to mind previous Paola & Chiara songs like “Vamos A Bailar (Esta Vida Nueva)” and “Festival,” which also incorporated elements of Spanish music. Here, they blend a thick, insistent modern pop beat with Spanish style acoustic guitar and some organic Spanish-flavored beats. The colorful song also features beautiful piano, but it’s Paola and Chiara’s gorgeous voices, sounding especially dreamy here, that truly make the song a masterpiece.
“Tu sei l’anno che verrà” (Google: “You are the coming year”) also blends dance and pop masterfully. During the verses, the edgy beats are in the mid-tempo pop vein, but the tempo goes up a few notches and it turns into a full-blown dance song during the epic chorus, which features layers of soaring strings and luscious harmonies. This song just begs to be a single this summer. In fact, it could be *the* song of summer 2013.
Not every song on the album is a dance/pop hybrid. “Non piangere per me” (Google: “Do not cry for me”), for example, is a stunning house number from start to finish. It features layers and layers of dazzling synth and irresistible beats that are sure to fill dancefloors.
Paola and Chiara must be big Rihanna fans because this is their second album in a row to feature a Rihanna cover. On their last album, Milleluci, they did “Russian Roulette,” which they wrote their own Italian lyrics for, giving it the title “Così non saprai mai” (Google: “So you’ll never know”). Here on Giungla, they do “California King Bed,” which they’ve also written their own Italian lyrics for, giving it the title “Che mi importa di te” (Google: “What I care about you”). In the case of “Russian Roulette,” I believe they more or less just translated the song into Italian, keeping the central story. But I’m pretty sure they just tossed aside the lyrics to “California King Bed” and simply wrote their own song using the music and melody of Rihanna’s song. I could be mistaken though.
Paola and Chiara have always written moving ballads and Giungla features some of their best to date. On the mellow side, there’s the lovely piano ballad “E se per caso” (Google: “And if by chance”). And there’s the synthy, mid-tempo ballad “Non sei più tu” (Google: “No Longer You”). But my favorite ballad here, which is also my favorite song on the album, is “Stai dove sei” (Google: “Stay where you are”), which is a massive, epic ballad on par with Adele’s Bond movie ballad “Skyfall.” It begins with Paola and Chiara singing softly accompanied solely by enchanting piano then adds subtle bass guitar, but their vocals become intense as soon as it hits the bridge, at which point the piano becomes quite boisterous. And then you have the emotive chorus, which is potent enough that it just might leave you breathless. The next verse adds drums and a touch of electro with what sounds like a weird vocal loop; whatever it is, it gives the song a slightly eerie vibe, upping the emotional ante. Soon you have lush and powerful strings to sweep you off of your feet. Like I said, it’s massive and it’s epic. I can promise you that you won’t hear a better ballad this year. Not in any language. Likewise, Giungla is sure to be one of the very best albums you’ll hear all year, if not the very best. We’re only in July but I’m pretty certain that it will be my album of the year.