Serge Fiori,
Serge Fiori
(GSI Musique, 2014)

The 1970s were a time of incredible musical renaissance in Quebec. One of the most popular figures of the then-flourishing music scene was Serge Fiori. The lead vocalist, main writer and creative force for the group Harmonium, Quebec's best-loved '70s folk-rock band, Fiori was revered with a messiah-like adoration. The impact of Harmonium's second album Les Cinq Saisons within Quebec has been compared with that of Sgt. Pepper.

Harmonium started as a pop-folk unit with a guitar based sound, but soon evolved into an art-rock or classical fusion band of mythical proportions. The original trio grew to a 10-member quasi-orchestra, with grandiose ambition.

After masterminding three astounding Harmonium albums, a worthy duo project with Richard Seguin and an uninspired solo effort in the mid-80s, Fiori almost completely disappeared from music for almost three decades. So when Fiori decided to record again, he had a lot of trepidation.

Based on the sound of this record -- and the public reaction online -- Fiori's return seems to be an unqualified success.

Interviews with the artist, along with a close examination of the texts, reveal it has not been an easy time for Fiori. He left the stage because of a neurological disease, causing something like stage fright, and at the same time was deserted by his muse. He still does not know if he will be able to perform live.

Although he is not fully recovered from these and other emotional issues, the result of his recent trip to the studio is an astounding one. It is as if a voice from long ago has come to us in wonder and confusion at all we've accomplished since the decade of the '70s, when we last heard Fiori's distinct and emotive voice. A voice which, almost incredibly, has not changed.

Fiori has described his creative process as a spontaneous, almost trancelike state. In 1974's "Pour un Instant" -- considered one of Quebec's most important songs, Fiori wrote "Pour un instant j'ai oublie mon nom/ca m'a permis enfin d'ecrire cette chanson." (For a moment, I forgot my name; that allowed me to write this song.) That is the key to Fiori.

On the new record, "Le Monde est Virtuel (The World is Virtual)," which opens the collection, leaves the impression of someone from the '70s waking up in the digital age. Then "Crampe au Cerveau" looks at our politics. Both songs sound like the "old" Serge Fiori musically, right down to the trademark Fiori 12-string and Harmonium mellotron, but explore new territory lyrically.

The remainder of the new album maintains the same kind of lyricism in both texts and music as the songs that moved so many, years ago.

While you can't recreate the '70s, it is clear the old inspiration has returned. On "Jamais (Never)" we even hear a duet with Monique Fauteux, ex Harmonium singer, who gave us the lovely "Le Corridor"on the final Harmonium LP l'Heptade, just a mere 36 years ago. Songs such as "Demanche (Ruined)," an acoustic blues, evoke an era in music, without seeming musically dated. On this track, and on "Seule" he reminds us of his old pal Seguin.

There is a lot of passion and nostalgia in Quebec for a time when anything seemed possible. Much of the reception for this disc has to do with the unexpected return of a national hero of a people who have always looked to larger-than-life figures for deliverance. Heroes like Rocket Richard and Rene Levesque won't come back -- they are long gone. But Fiori did -- and did so unexpectedly. As one Internet commentator declared, "Fiori, c'est nous. (Fiori is us.)"

He once called himself "un musicien parmi tant d'autres (one musician among many)," but truly he is not regarded that way in Quebec.

Harmonium's 1978 epic l'Heptade was the story of a fool's journey to wisdom. Fiori's may have started out at age 22 "comme un fou, tout est si clair (everything is simple for a simple man)," but his return at 62 is "comme un sage (as a wise man)," having completed his time in the wilderness. In a way this new disc fulfills the prophecy of l'Heptade with the artist returning to us after a long and difficult inner journey. For those waiting for Serge Fiori's return, the wait has been worth it. Many new fans will find this CD enjoyable as well.

music review by
David Cox

3 May 2014

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