Like Francois Hardy with diplomatic immunity.
Chris Jones 2008
A woman, rather breathlessly, sings songs of regret, desire and love's splendours and obsessions over a vaguely jazzy, acoustic world beat. "Je te donne mon corps, mon ame et mon chrysantheme" (I give you my body, my soul and my chrysanthemum) she huskily declares on a song called Ta Tienne. So far, so Gallic But then you remember, this is Carla Bruni, France's first lady, married to president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Blimey. Is that who we think it is she's promising her 'chrysanthemum' to? Crikey....
But let's put the politics to one side shall we? A child of a pianist mother and an opera writer father, she's obviously got music in the blood, so why should we snigger and scoff? Only this year we've seen actress, Scarlett Johansson, turn out an admirable collection of Tom Waits covers. But in the field of models turned singers the highlights are few. Naomi Campbell's album beggared belief. And, apart from Imelda Marcos, she's alone in being a first lady with a real career in music. But at the heart of our scepticism is the fact that to the majority of us Brits she's really more famous for her ex-lovers than her singing. Well, get over it. Her last album (in English) was a beguiling mixture of poetry (Auden) and chanson. But this time she's giving us something a little more mainstream.
Comme Si De Rien N'etait (As if Nothing Happened) is, in the end, a diverting piece of coffee table pop. The album is about as French as you can get, which is actually slightly surprising as Bruni is Italian by birth. There's that undertow of world beats, especially on Ma Jeunesse and Le Temps Perdu; the cafe bar retropop of Je Suis Une Enfant; and of course the breathless wordinesss beloved of a long lineage of chanteuses; like Francoise Hardy with diplomatic immunity. And her version of You Belong To Me (wisely, the only track in English) is sweet indeed. The only real stinker is the dull Jack Johnson-esque blues lope of Notre Grand Amour Est Mort (presumably this doesn't refer to her current beau).
Lyrically, meanwhile, though political commentators will scour the text for subtext, we get her trademark mixture of passionate, obsessional missives of love - on Tu Es Ma Came she compares her lover to various drugs - and vaguely surreal wordplay. On L'Antilope she says: "The future is unclear,/And the past is troublesome/Me I'm at one with the present/Like the panther and the elephant". Make of that what you will...
Bruni's disc may not win her new fans in the stolidly un-French speaking UK. But removed from the context of her very public private life, this is a charming album.