We all know stereotyping is very wrong, but French electronica is the best electronica -- must be something in the water. Their way of working classy beats through earwormish pop hooks while walking a thin line between brilliant and tacky is almost a geographical trademark, and although different hues can be obviously found amongst the many French electronica artists, they all have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that is immediately identifiable.

Voyager is Pascal Arbez a.k.a. Vitalic’s fourth proper studio album, and his first since 2012’s Rave Age. I must confess I don’t know his previous work that well, and that Voyager only caught my eye through the enormous posters in the Parisian Metro. I know it sounds superficial, but the artwork intrigued me so I decided to give the album a spin. I’m glad I did so; it hit me directly on my French Touch Achilles’ heel from the very start.

Opener ‘El Viaje’ -- literally, “the trip” -- is slightly supported by Latin American undertones in its first seconds, but it could also be the title conditioning me to feel so. It's minute and a half -- which allied to the absence of vocals gives you an intro feel -- smoothly transitions into one of the album’s singles, the David Shaw and The Beat collab ‘Waiting For The Stars’. This got instantly stuck in my head from the first spin, as the song’s hook is so unbelievably Pop it almost makes you feel ashamed. Yes, there is a distinctive Depeche Mode aura in the background - probably responsible for its instant familiarity - but the cadence of the central riff is much more European, more dramatic: French Touch always seems to inhabit a tragic profoundness that is hidden by an apparent tonal superficiality. The track is followed by ‘Levitation’, which although not especially inventive in form or modulation works well as a clubbing energiser.

Voyager is also rich in collabs: besides Mancunian House artist Davis Shaw on ‘Waiting For The Stars’, it also features Miss Kittin on ‘Hans Is Driving’ (whose cool, détaché electronics are vaguely reminiscent of early Kavinski’s) and Mark Kerr (Maestro) on ‘Use It Or Lose It’. Although incredibly powerful conceptually, both tracks are also very subtle in the way they assert themselves within the album’s structure. Contrarily to ‘Waiting For The Stars’, ‘Use It Or Lose It’ is more underground-ish, less hit-oriented, with a discreet class emanating throughout and taking its toll in the verse, where Kerr’s voice goes up an octave.

‘Lightspeed’s riff may sound like a weird take on ‘Funky Town’ at first, but the way it allows a controlled, almost organic evolution of its initial format is both admirable and intriguing. The majestic combination of piano and voice in ‘Eternity’ momentarily transports us to Klaus Nomi’s take of ‘The Cold Song’, while intensely visual orchestrations operate in the background; suddenly the song changes and synths invade, lifting us from the ground and filling in the blanks, like a coda of a goodbye.

‘Nozomi’ is my absolute favourite track of Voyager, an intricate construction whose faux-delayed cadence evokes the hypnotic layers of La Femme’s ‘Sphinx’. The reason that I immediately connected to the track is because it is built around a paradox: in spite of being initially unimpressive and admittedly bringing nothing new, something suddenly changes in its structure which causes an unexpected turn. By altering the ordinary only in almost unnoticeable ways, ‘Nozomi’ evokes identifiable insanity and at the same time it allows a loss of purpose in its own self.

‘Sweet Cigarette’ - an intense yet rather uninventive ode to the pleasures of smoking - precedes the closer: ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ is an impromptu cover of the Supertramp classic from their 1982 LP ...Famous Last Words, and although properly minimalist in a very striped-down synth way, is probably my least favourite track. It’s a shame since the closer often carries the most weight regarding the aftertaste.

All in all, Voyager is both a pleasant surprise and an addiction: I listened to it at least five times in a row, which I believe is one of the greatest compliments one can pay to an album. Sure, I’m a fan of all kinds of disco (italo, euro, space, you name it) and consider myself to be a sucker for a nice dry, insistent beat, but I also like my get-down to be melodic. Voyager compiles all the above, and although it brings nothing exceptionally new to the world of electronica, it is definitely worth your time.