June 19, 2024

Mathieu Boogaerts – ‘Boogaerts (en anglais)’- rare and gentle Chanson in English


Very quiet, very considered, halting and charming. An interesting experiment here for Mathieu Boogaerts, a well-known (well, in the niche world of Chanson) French singer. Despite having a number of albums under his belt and a career in France and Belgium, Boogaerts has spent the last five years in London. Thinking about making an album in English; instead of getting skilled translation done on his subtle and playful songs, or even use a dictionary, he has done it himself, using only the English he would use in his day to day life. It’s like a deliberate hobbling but a way of having fun with language. “The song has to come from the inside”, he explains. “I didn’t want to use a dictionary because then I would be using words I’m unfamiliar with.”

The result of the experiment is a charmingly naïve and lyrically stilted creation that may be aimed more at the French market than the English-speaking world. Chanson isn’t a big market in Britain anyway, with only a couple of homegrown artists coming to mind (Jake Thackray, Leon Rosselson and (sometimes) Rob Johnson). Over the channel, British listeners would find it hard to go beyond naming Jacques Brel to singers like George Brassens. With this album in English, French listeners may not catch the stiltedness, just as I miss the subtleties of songs in French but, combined with the open-heart exploration of the heart, there is a teeny bit of Jonathan Richman’s over-sharing, though Boogaerts has a playful storytelling that is quite different. He says; “The purpose of my songs in French or English is always to express feelings: jealousy, regret, desire, happiness, curiosity… but I would never say ‘this is good’ or ‘this is bad’”. At one point in the album he is explaining what colours he likes and how he doesn’t like to pick a favourite. Elsewhere he spells out the aspects of relationships in the simplest terms possible, adding a certain rusticity of the heart.

Sometimes apparently singing about himself, sometimes adopting a persona, aspects of the human emotional landscape are explored in an always light way. His gentle voice and light arrangements for acoustic instruments make this a Mr Kipling confection. Delicate playful touches like moments of multi-tracking his voice add to the sensation of a decorated cake. Rhythms from round the world are lightly pilfered and incorporated in the soufflé of song. Nothing is loud, nothing strongly emoted; it’s like Frank Sinatra singing samba with Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s how Mathieu does things; “It’s more of a Chet Baker energy” (Chet is a hero to the French jazz scene for his restrained vocals). The result is a sweet yet knowing set of melodies and word pictures that have the air of a picture on the wall to admire.

Different in tone and texture to anything else you’ll hear this month.

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