<%-- Page Title--%> Trends <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 143 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

February 27 2004

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Frech Song
Its Great Variety

Christophe Conte

Sophisticated writing, a mixture of pop and jazz, orchestration liberated from commercialism, this is the recipe for the revival of French song. A new generation of artists has emerged and their musical arrangements do not set out to disappoint a demanding audience.

A permanent Spring -- this is the impression given by the French song and rock scene over the last few seasons. After several decades of unobtrusive flowerings, we are now witnessing an unending burgeoning of artists, for the most part singer-songwriters, who all share a taste for complete mastery of their subject, from the slightest verb to the smallest nuance of sound. We will linger here over a few of these erudite exponents of their craft who have contributed, individually and without clannishness or confining themselves to any particular generation, to giving French music a facelift and strengthening its foundations.

Foremost among them, Silvain Vanot is the "oldest" on the circuit. Ten years ago, this former literature teacher overturned the established scene with a first record that mixed a Jansenist and gutsy rock, often compared to Neil Young's music, and words of a very high literary standard. After a few other records more or less in the same vein, in 2002 Vanot allowed his instincts for song to come out in a more generous and calmer album, Il fait soleil [It's sunny], hailed as a major success. In it he plays twofold tribute to two endearing and little known "ancestors" (the great Jean-Roger Caussimon and the Reunion troubadour, Alain Peters) and demonstrates the now unlimited interests of artists of his generation.

In the same spirit, Benjamin Biolay and Keren Ann will both remain forever linked to the triumphant return of octogenarian Henri Salvador, for whom they have composed five songs, including Jardin d'biver [Winter Garden]. Besides this, Benjamin and Keren Ann have released two albums each in three years, establishing an easily recognisable style with ultra-sophisticated writing, folk-rock colours and voluptuous string orchestrations, catchy melodies and an elliptical world. For his talents as an eclectic arranger and his Pygmalion charisma, he has already been compared to Serge Gainsbourg, while people sometimes see in her the new Francoise Hardy.

Gainsbourg's heirs
Indestructible role models and parent figures, Gainsbourg and Hardy continue to generate disciples. So it is hard not to see the shadow of the slender figure of "Miss Francoise" behind Carla Bruni's light songs. As for the great Serge, there would not be sufficient space on this page to list his professed offspring, among them Miossec, Bertrand Burgalat, Benabar, Julien Baer, Ignatus, Marc Gauvin and Pascal Parisot.
On top of the "Gainsbourien" podium, we would put Katerine without a second's hesitation. Over the last decade the thirty-year-old Katerine has released the most fantastic records, undoubtedly the best written and arranged in the whole of French pop. At first classified as a minimalist, he subsequently showed that he was, on the contrary, a man of great works, for himself or for his performers (often female, from Helena Noguera to Anna Karina). For the last two albums, the most recent with the title Huitieme Ciel [Eighth Heaven] Katerine makes the surrealist fragments of his poetry pirouette over music with strains of experimental jazz.

An eclectic musical landscape
Also rather hastily labelled a trendy minimalist in his early days, when in the mid-nineties he released his first record under the title Super, Mathieu Boogaerts has since established himself as a kind of chronicler of frivolity and the feeling of alienation. The proof is in his splendid third album, released in 2002, called 2000! Spiritual son of Dutchman Dick Annegarn (with whom he shared the stage for several months as part of an itinerant twosome), Boogaerts also has close artistic connections with the French singer Mathieu Chedid, alias M, his childhood friend.

Emilie Simon is not the daughter of writer and musician Yves Simon. But her father, a sound engineer, has, since her childhood, passed on a taste for playing with sound, for the kind of sorcery that takes over when making a record. For her first album, which she released at the age of twenty-four, Emilie shut her self away for months in a studio set up at home, putting the finishing touches to her feverish music nourished as much by the frilly pop of Kate Bush as by the most radical electronics of English sound labs.

On the opposite side of this spectrum, and proof of the diversity and depth of the current French song scene, we find the award-winner of the year, Vincent Delerm, whose amazing first album has been the surprise success of recent months. Son of the writer Philippe Delerm, known for his handling of detail and his gift for making the insignificant spectacular, Delerm Junior has picked up the family torch by telling amusing little stories which mix self-fiction and real people. The result is like an X-ray of the world of "bourgeois-bohemians", or "bobos", by one of their own.

This article was first published in LABEL FRANCE





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