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Versailles, France

Versailles - La Cathédrale du Temps. 1991 Musea
Versailles - Don Giovanni. 1992 Musea
Versailles - Le Trésor de Valliesres. 1994 Musea
Versailles - Blaise et Benjamin. 1998 Musea
Mona Lisa - De l'Ombre à la Lumière. 1998 Musea

Versailles had a fantastic 4 album run + the Mona Lisa reunion album, and then disappeared without much notice. I cannot find an online presence for the band, though a trip over to YouTube will net you some samples if so inclined.

----La Cathédrale du Temps

Versailles debuted with the amateurish La Cathédrale du Temps, an album that was released before it was fully baked, and was an inauspicious start for the young French band. While today none of this is remembered, I do believe it hurt the band in the early 1990s, as I was certainly one who was put off at the time. But I was convinced to give them another chance with their sophomore effort "Don Giovanni" after much pleading. Thank goodness for like-minded friends.

----Don Giovanni

All that was wrong with the debut was corrected here. Versailles put everything together on Don Giovanni for a mature progressive rock album in the theatrical French language tradition - itself a nationalistic response to the immense popularity of those pesky English and their blasted Genesis. So, in effect, Versailles are to Ange and Mona Lisa what IQ are to Genesis. And vocalist/guitarist/flautist and overall ringleader Guillaume de la Piliere is their spiritual heart, in the same way Peter Nicholls is for IQ. His vocals are the centerpiece to the compositions, but since most of the tracks clear the 10 minute mark, plenty of room is given for the most impressive instrumental work.

What was so striking about this release in 1992 was the pointed use of analog equipment, something that was highly unusual in its day. Hammond organ, string synths, Rickenbacker bass (or similar), acoustic and compressed electric acid guitar solos are all out of the 1978 French cookbook. If you've heard the private press French albums from this era (Arachnoid, Archaia, Nuance, etc...), then you'll know exactly the type of guitar sound I'm talking about here. 1992 is also the year Anglagard burst onto the scene, and yet Versailles went by with barely a mention. The good news is they continued on from here with two more albums (really 3 if you count the last Mona Lisa album), which are arguably even better and more powerful.

BTW, it may appear the artwork I've pasted here is clipped, but that's pretty much what the CD cover looks like!

----Le Trésor de Valliesres

Continuing the 1600's French bawdy theme of Don Giovanni, Versailles continue to mine, and actually expand upon, the motif artistique of the theatrical French bands like Ange and Mona Lisa. The album cover art perhaps underscores this more than the music itself. Musically, Versailles doubles down on the direction of its predecessor. On Le Trésor de Valliesres, Versailles goes for broke on their early 1970s sound and composition obsession, going as far as adding mellotron and throwing in crazy progressive ideas / meter shifts / thematic inconsistencies wherever they feel like it. Add to that the Chris Squire inspired bass playing, and Gilmour (or perhaps more pointedly, Pulsar) styled glissando guitar, and you're in progressive rock heaven (at least how I define it). Had this album been released in 1974, it would today be considered one of France's all-time great symphonic progressive masterpieces. But alas, this was 1994, an era that is today much looked over. But have no fear fellow intrepid travelers, the eventual discovery is coming. And we'll be awaiting when the ships arrive. For those that love Gallic progressive rock, this one is an All-Timer.

----Blaise et Benjamin

Taking the sound of Le Trésor de Valliesres even further along their 1970's French heritage, Versailles have now fully embraced the space rock sound of Pulsar. Especially on the two opening lengthy epics 'Blaise et Benjamin' (15:21) and 'Poison de Passion' (19:19), whereas the two shorter tracks (short being a relative term here as both tracks clock in well over 9 minutes each) return to their theatrical Ange and Mona Lisa roots. There is more room given to the instrumentals, and space is created for guitar riffs and solos, along with keyboard atmospheric sequences and organ demonstrations. If looking for English equivalents, or bands you may be familiar with, what you have here is classic Genesis meets Pink Floyd, both within their respective most progressive era. However, there's no mistaking Versailles' Gallic roots, and to repeat what the true influences are: Ange meets Pulsar. 'Poison de Passion' I believe to be Versailles' most 70's inspired track of their career.

This was to be the last album from the great Versailles, and they fortunately finished at the top of their game. However, the band essentially continued under the legendary Mona Lisa moniker for one final album, as they fulfilled the instrumental sections for lead vocalist Dominique Le Guennec. And Versailles' de facto leader Guillaume de la Piliere pushed on with three solo albums, though all missed the synchronicity of a full band effort.

----De l'ombre à la lumière

De l'ombre à la lumière is, in effect, the 5th Versailles album. Due to the presence of charismatic vocalist Dominique Le Guennec, the band opted to name themselves Mona Lisa out of respect. Not to mention that Le Guennec co-writes 8 of the 9 tunes here. My guess is he's the lyricist, but there's no definitive proof of my assumption. In addition to Le Guennec the band recruited Philippe Maury, formerly of Quidam (Reflets Rocks), to perform bass duty. No matter, as Versailles' fingerprints are all over this. Not quite the instrumental powerhouse of the last 3 Versailles albums, which in addition to the Ange/Mona Lisa sound, also were profoundly rooted into the Pulsar space rock motif. The music of De l'ombre à la lumière is a bit more straightforward, similar to classic era Mona Lisa albums like Le Petit Violon de Mr. Gregoire and Avant Qu'il ne Soit Trop Tard, perfect for highlighting the histrionics of Le Guennec's front-man routine. Plenty of great flute and mellotron points to Mona Lisa's 70's heritage - and Versailles' intentional retro instrumentation. Interesting to note that Le Guennec sat out for the last Mona Lisa album (Vers Demain), only to return some 10 years later with Versailles in tow and the other members of Mona Lisa nowhere to be found.

Last update: July 21, 2016


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