UNIVERSAL MUSIC 9th October 2020
French pop of this sort lives in its own world, distinguished by an adherence to things that are easy on the ears, a focus on the song and a love of a fragile voice. Carla Bruni probably doesn’t have a fragile voice but when she records, she never sings loud, everything is quiet, occasionally almost whispered, sometimes edging on the spoken in emphasis, with a catch sometimes round the edges. That’s how the French like it.
This is a world far removed from the world of the telecharge (download) charts but this sort of grown-up pop is still a big thing and Britain doesn’t have a real equivalent. The tradition of the Chansonnier lives on and Carla ensures the lyrics are clear, as the tales told and emotions expressed are more a focus than the beat. Something like Un Grand Amour is in the tradition of wistful reflection and enjoyment of reliving moments of high feeling. That said, a tenuous grasp of French allows the English speaker here to interpret everything as slightly more profound than it might be. Songs are never big ballads, but gentle or measured. Some, like Le Petit Guepard (The Little Cheetah), are playful (and the tip of a cap to Dylan’s Simple Twist Of Fate doesn’t hurt). The jaunty Comme Si C’etait Hier (like it was yesterday) stands out for a lilting swing. The sad little La Chambre Vide (the empty room – about a child leaving home) is more in keeping with the themes of the album. Rien Que L’extase bounces like a quiet Eurovision song, while the vocal nibbles its way into your ear.
It isn’t all French and Your Lady has a classical French female vocal, almost halting and slightly cracked on the edges, delivering a broken-hearted English lyric very simply. There are Italian lyrics too, since Bruni is Italian-French. She’s no lightweight on writing and wrote most of the lyrics for one of Louis Bertignac’s albums (he is French rock royalty – having co-founded eighties band, Telephone). It also doesn’t hurt that she is a model (what is it about presidents and models, eh?). This album is written by her (bar a couple of songs – one Spanish) and simply played on piano, guitar and little else. Recorded live, in just six days, it has a jazzy sense of place.
Married to ex-Prime Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, hence a lengthy break from singing during the presidency and an album every few years since, most recently an album of covers. She has followed that now with this and the results are extremely accessible, whatever the language. The atmosphere carries perfectly and the melodies are strong, conveying the emotional meaning of each song. It’s an affecting and ultimately satisfying collection.