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The Soundtrack to Spring & Summer
on May 13, 2011
Chanson Francaise is certainly an interesting genre - for every great album thats released, there are an infinite number that are plodding, dreary, and downright un-musical, despite their best intentions. Throw in the fact that much French music is now made outside France, most notably in Canada, and you've got an eclectic selection of albums to choose from - some better than others.
French-Canadian musicians in particular are an enthralling set - only because they've given us unlikely stars in the form of Arianne Moffatt, and Pierre LaPointe, both of whom are still rather underrated. But perhaps their finest achievement has been Jerome Miniere, whose 2010 record ranked as one of the greatest albums released that year, in any language or musical genre.
Which brings us to Coeur de Pirate, a three-word pseudonymn for young Beatrice Martin, a singer from Quebec who was just 20 at the time of the recording of this album, and who over the span of two short years has gone on to become one of France's twee-music darlings, and rightly so. Much of this appeal has to do with her inspired collaboration with Julien Dore, himself a major media draw, and their resulting duet would go on to set the French singles chart on fire, resulting in widespread exposure for this, her debut album.
Beatrice doesn't necessarily possess a great singing voice. Like Vanessa Paradis before her, she has a very sweet, almost saccharine tonality to her voice and she is almost incapable of rising above the register she is singing in. Many critics have criticized this sort of singing as merely 'talking over songs', but I would disagree. She does indeed sing, but tends to play it safe but not attempting notes she cannot score on. Wisely, all of the songs here are easy in that respect, and she floats along on them most winningly. However, she does possess that rare quality of impeccable enunciation - every word and syllable is pronounced beautifully and audibly, and the instrumentation doesn't threaten at any stage to drown her out. Needless to say, this is a virtue that has been lost in many recent french album releases, and its a treat to be able to slip a disc in and understand every word the singer sings, more so when the music is this good.
Of course, with every quality production, there are bound to be low points. The general consensus on this album in France is that many of the songs sounded the same. While it is difficult to argue with the rationale behind that sentiment, a couple of plays of the album would render such a claim meaningless. There are minute touches here and there that make every track a standout. Consider the playful handclaps on the backing track of "Berceuse", a highlight that make an interesting song a really good one. On the instrumental "Intermission", Beatrice's delicate piano playing takes center-stage, in a surprising move on a wholly vocal album.
While this is very much a spring-summer album (most notably on "Printemps"), its also one that holds up remarkably well in any surrounding. Consider this as the soundtrack to a quiet night at home with a bottle of wine, or a relaxing road trip to the country, and it wouldn't be out of place in either environment. Most of the lyrics deal with love and life, but they aren't exceptionally deep or philosophical; like the album, they are breezy and light, and perfectly suited to the songs they accompany.
The standout of course, is Beatrice's much-publicized collaboration with Julien Dore (who in 2011 released his underrated sophomore record 'Bichon'). This is one of those rare instances where the hype is justified, as the 1960s instrumentation and vintage mood to the leads' vocals lend it a quaint likeability that immediately render it as rather unique. Also, Martin & Dore's voices are very much in sync here, each complimenting the other in the most unexpected way.
However, my own personal favorite would have to be the stripped-down, almost acoustic-sounding 'Francis', which Martin delivers with rapid-speed wordplay and the lyrics here are absolutely gripping. Although, even if you aren't a native or taught French speaker, you will find it possible to enjoy this album just based on the music and melodies, which again is a rarity. Many non-French speakers sometimes reach out to acclaimed French albums and find that they are unable to enjoy the contents. This happens if the album is heavy on songwriting and low on melody (in France, many such albums are huge chart favorites - the works of Vincent Delerm, for example, are always commercially successful, although you would be hard-pressed to hum even one tune by him; as his strength is his complex songwriting).
Yet, there are some albums, such as this welcome debut by Coeur de Pirate, that are accessible to all. Another one in a similar vein is "Je Suis au Paradis" by Thomas Fersen from 2011, "Integrale" by L (2011), and "Juste Comme Ca" by French model turned singer Mickael Miro (2011). All of these are albums that non-native admirers of French music would enjoy, as it isn't imperative that you know the language to appreciate them.
"Coeur De Pirate" is a short album (under 30 minutes), but like Camelia Jordana's brilliant debut, it doesn't need much time to make an impact. It also has a lot of replay value, and that something to be said for a marketplace that is often full of one-play wonders. A solid debut, and certainly an essential addition to your music collection.