Tuesday, 14 May 2019

OrelSan: Dis Moi a few thoughts about YouTube videos

With digital metrics there are more ways than ever to measure how much of a star an artist is. When it was just radio play or sales, life was simpler. An artist was huge if they were at number one, and from then on that would be the measure of their career. Maybe a few awards would add to their biography

But with measures on everything from Spotify plays to downloads, the amount of information available can make things more complicated. Do physical sales matter more than streams? Is a spike in streaming a measure of a developing artist or a statistical anomaly?

No such issues aith OrelSan. La fête est finie, his first solo album in six years, was a massive seller, a number one and platinum seller, the track Basique making the top ten and clocking almost 70 million views on YouTube.

And the YouTube views for this one? Already in the millions. He's a master of making videos that are both edgy and entertaining and you get the feeling he doesn't take himself too seriously.

Nice to see a Bollywood flavour for the video, certainly something unexpected for a rap video. I reckon that since Stromae, rap artists have been challenged to develop new ideas rather than just relying on the cliches of the genre.

OrelSan's been quick to realise this, and he has done it better than most and his YouTube views are a testament to the success of his approach.


Pépite at the Institut Français in London (and why this is a good thing!)

A great opportunity to catch one of France's most promising acts in the UK tonight, with Pépite playing at the Institut Français tonight.

It's the latest in their Music Rendezvous events, where they've been presenting a well-chosen selection of France's finest developing acts in London.

The IF music events give developing French acts an experience of playing in the UK that might be considered too risky a venture until their career is more established internationally. They may be playing decent sized club venues across France (and Pépite certainly are!) but shows in the UK can be a risky step financially for a French act.

Given the uncertainly of playing in the UK or playing in France where they might be already more established, it becomes a simple choice.  A home win beats a difficult away fixture.

It certainly doen't make life easy for a French music fan and doesn't help establish the act to a UK audience.

So this is where the IF step in and break the vicious circle. By putting on a show in London the act get a prestigious gig in a friendly environment, get some key exposure to critics and press and hopefully it opens the door to more engagement in the UK. Hopefully more gigs, more airplay and more French acts being introduced to an anglophone audience. Everybody wins!

Hopefully some day before too long, the acts playing the IF in London might even get to play at the IF in Edinburgh too.

Pépite are just the kind of act that a UK audience would take to. Their recently released Virages debut is the kind of dreamy electro indie that would attract the ears of anyone won over by Air and classic French pop, but with a perspective that ensures its firmly in 2019's playlist.

Pépite are currently on tour across France, and play at La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris on May 28.


Monday, 13 May 2019

Des Larmes: Another video from Mylène Farmer

A new video from Mylène Farmer, with a clip for Des Larmes another track from her recent Désobéissance album.

If I had to point to one example as to where French music taste and anglo music taste differ vastly it would have to be Mylène. She's probably France's biggest living artist (yes, I know she's from Canada...) and a cultural icon somewhere in an intersection of Madonna, Kate Bush, Lady Gaga and Rimbaud.

But I'd love to hear her take some genuinely unexpected turns with her music. We all know she can do the polite club music with vaguely melancholic lyrics and some vocal gymnastics, but wouldn't it be something if she really went outside her commercially successful comfort zone?

She should step away from working with the likes of Sting (yes, I know it was a number one in France...) and think about a collaboration with Gojira. Maybe guesting on some hard-edged rap? Working with some serious electronic artists?

Still, nine number one albums in France tells its own story. I don't think she'll be in a hurry to change an apparently winning formula. But for the record, I think the work she did with Moby on Bleu noir was one of the best things she's ever done.

Désobéissance has already spawned three number one singles since its release last year. Des Larmes is released in physical formats on June 7 as she begins a series of live shows at the Paris La Défense Arena in Nanterre near Paris.


Thursday, 9 May 2019

Jain wins the women's World Cup

Great to hear that Jain's playing at the opening ceremony of the FIFA women's football World Cup.

France is hosting this year's biggest international sporting event, the opening game on June 7 featuring France and South Korea at Parc des Princes.

Hard to imagine a better international representative for France at the event, she'll be in front of one of the biggest audiences in the world. Women's football has been growing massively in popularity recently, and given the success that France enjoyed at the recent World Cup, and their victory when the Worl Cup was hosted by France, the tournament will give the sport another massive platform.

She commented on Facebook: "I’m so proud to be a part of the FIFA Women's World Cup...I’ll be singing for the opening ceremony!!!!!!!

"Supporting inspiring women in football and all around means the world to me, I hope you’ll be watching, supporting them with love."

She explained that her recently-released song Gloria

The singer, who recently played the Coachella festival in California, is in the middle of an international tour promoting her Souldier album that's taken her to Japan, and North and South America as well as all over France. She's got dates at Zénith arenas ahead as well as festivaa dates over the summer at events like Les Eurockéennes, Main Square and Lollapalooza in Paris.

I'm no expert on football by any means, but I'm predicting a home win for Jain.


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Christine and the cover versions

The cover version of a song is an art in itself. Plenty of acts do them, very few actually get it right.

For a cover version to work, it can't be a straight recreation of the original; there are enough tribute acts to do that. An artist has to take a piece of work created by another artist, and reconfigure it according to their vision and make a new piece that can stand alongside their own work. It should also still have some of the DNA of the original, again there are plenty of songs that are just essentially derivative works of better originals, covers in all but name with enough changes to satisfy copyright lawyers.

I've always rated Husker Du's version of Eight Miles High. It couldn't be a version by any other band but Husker Du. Wile the original is there, it has been re-imagined and reworked into something wonderful and different, and also contextualising a bunch of hippy outsiders from the flower power 60s California to a bunch of punk outsiders from Minneapolis.



It's a skill to get it right. So hats off to Christine and the Queens for being the absolute royalty of the cover version.

Their best known is probably their version of Paradis Perdus from Chaleur Humain. 




It's a perfect choice of a song to cover. A 1973 hit for veteran chanteur Christophe, it was written by a young Jean Michel Jarre and was the title track of Christophe's album. I've read it described perhaps a little over-enthusiastically as one of the greatest French language songs, only equalled by Christophe and Jarre's later Les Mots Bleus. True or not depends on opinion, but it's certainly an outstanding song as well as one that is steeped in French music's history.



There's something in Christine's version that makes it seem almost autobiographical. The references to singing in the cellars of London, the melancholy and the self-doubt while dressed as a dandy. No doubt there's something in it she could relate to. But Christine takes it right into the 21st century, reference to Kanye West's Heartless sliding effortlessly into the mix, subtly adding another level to the original.

But it's not the end of the Christine's mastery of the cover version. Take her recent version of Véronique Sanson's Rien que de l'eau, a track. The 80s funk of the original (even though it came out in '92) lends itself perfectly to revision by Christine.




It could easily be a track from Chris, given that album's grounding in the music of that era. Her performance of the track on French TV seems less like her performing someone else's song and more like one of her own that had the involvement of another artist.

Véronique Sanson herself looks astonished watching the performance. It's easy to see why.

Many of the reviews of Chris mentioned the influence of Michael Jackson on the music, but there's an entire era of French music that also played a part in shaping the sounds of the album.




Elsewhere, look and listen to her versions of songs by Beyoncé and Rihanna. I can imagine dozens of X Factor attempting to perform these, and at best coming close to impersonating the originals. Artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna are so iconic, as are their songs, that to attempt a cover version should be a disaster. At best a pastiche, at worse a cynical attempt to market an artist to their audience.

I can't imagine another singer who could take on work like this and absolutely own it like Christine does. She does it with ease, and just for good measure throws in a bit of Kate Bush. And while we're at it, remember she's singing in a second language. It's astonishing to see.





Her take on the INXS track Need you tonight makes it clear her talent isn't just covering female artists. Michael Hutchence was again an iconic singer, any cover of his work would inevitably beg comparison to his original, but Christine masters it.




There are other anglophone songs from male artists that she's taken on and absolutely made her own. I wonder if a male English speaking artist would even consider a cover in a different language originally by a female artist? I think we can imagine the answer to that one...




Of course as a French singer, she's at home with work from francophone artists. Her version of Mylène Farmer's California makes the vocal references to Mylène's style, but it sits comfortably within the canon of Christine's own work.



Her version of Bashung's Osez Josephine is a real treat, stripping it to a bare skeleton of funk and breathing a new life into it. It's like a colour version while Bashung's a grainy black and white.





It would be wrong to finish without a version of a Christine song by another very different artist. A Scottish singer rapping in French is really something rather special...


On n’est pas seul sur Terre: A few throughts on Pascal Obispo

A track from Pascal Obispo's recent Obispo album, recounting how he witnessed a road accident and helped the seriously injured victim, who later contacted him. Obispo pays tribute to that man, Nicolas Lacambre, who features in the video.

Obispo tells how in February 2008 he was driving on the road between Cap Ferret and Bordeaux when he witnessed an accident involving a motorcycle and a car. When he got to the scene the other driver had fled and the severely injured rider was left in the road. He moved him to the roadside and contacted the emergency services.

One year later at an event in Bordeaux a security guard introduced him to a man using a wheelchair, Nicolas Lacambre, the man he saved.

Since then the two remained in contact, Obispo deciding after ten years to recount what happened and to pay tribute to Lacambre, who features in the video.

It's a powerful piece, perhaps all the more so as it avoids over-dramatisation and re-affirms the value of humanity.

If you weren't familiar with Obispo, you would think Lacambre was the star of the video. Again, it avoids the temptation to do the obvious. He's not portrayed here as a victim but as an equal; you could almost expect him to duet with Obispo. The injuries he received in the accident are obvious, and are not concealed, but they're not exploited for a cheap emotional reaction either. It's a thoughtful and affecting piece of work.

Pascal Obispo is on tour at the moment supporting the release of his album. Nicolas Lacambre, meanwhile, is preparing to release a book telling his story. It will also be entitled On n’est pas seul sur Terre.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Scott Walker RIP

Scott Walker was unique.

There will be much discussion about his later work, it's difficult and experimental nature, but his work in the 60s was in its own way pioneering. Magnificent baroque pop with the Walker Brothers that still sounds breathtaking to this day. But his solo work set out on a different direction, on a path few others could have travelled.

He was one of the first anglophone artists to recognise the work of Jacques Bre, and while David Bowie is credited with popularising his work, it was Scott who was first. Bowie's versions of My Death and Amsterdam are powerful works, and he deserves the critical acclaim, but Scott's versions led the way.



If my house was on fire and I was able to only save one album, Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel would probably be the one I went for. I picked up a copy out of curiosity, at the time I was more familiar with Bowie's versions of the songs, and my mind was opened up completely.

Other artists followed Scott in recording their versions of Brel somgs, from Alex Harvey's astonishing version of Next to Marc Almond's Jackie. Scott led the way.



The chanson of Brel was well matched to Scott's artistic vision. His early solo albums continue to showcasee him as a singer, and the pop star that he very much was, but with an intellectual and cultural edge that few others could match. The Brel covers seemed to give him permission to go on to write his own songs, themselves every bit as poetic and crafted.

His early solo albums are gems that have lost none of their sparkle.



Of course there would be compromises to come, mis-steps and an eventual stepping away from the spotlight. Later years saw a unique body of work develop that set a high water mark for contemporary music.  From The Electrician with late-period Walker Brothers to Soused with Sunn O))) his work was as rewarding as it was challenging, a unique voice combined with a unique vision.

He will be missed.