Tuesday, August 07, 2007

La pop-itude

Barbara Carlotti's show on Friday was even better than I expected: Her voice was incredibly…poised is the first word that comes to mind. The Sheila is still struggling a bit with her French and wasn't familiar with the songs, yet she said she immediately "got" them. It didn't hurt that Carlotti's backing band was ace, easily reproducing live not so much the letter as the spirit of the record's arrangements. We chatted a bit after the show and got around to talking about producer/songwriter extraordinaire Bertrand Burgalat, who's best known in the US for his work with April March and who produced Carlotti's first EP. Burgalat's most recent credits are on the hit of the spring in France: the debut album by Christophe Willem, who won Nouvelle Star (= French Idol) in 2006.

You may recall my post about the 2007 edition of that reality-TV show, but the amazing weirdness really started last year, when Willem—who was nicknamed la Tortue (the turtle) by one of the judges—won. Based on YouTube clips of the contest, I wasn't entirely convinced, but the album, which came out this April, is really, really good. Zazie, Bertrand Burgalat and Katerine took turns writing and arranging the songs and the result is the kind of record you would never expect from an American Idol: idiosyncratic, playful and unabashedly pop. On American Idol, the men who don't necessarily fit traditional standards of masculinity end up either like the butt of jokes (Sanjaya) or emasculated, unthreatening puppets (Clay Aiken—the new Johnny Mathis or Barry Manilow, without the talent). Willem's voice is very androgynous but he doesn't hide behind it and comes across as sexy in a likable, dorky way. I find that combination particularly interesting on his duet with comedian/director Valérie Lemercier because their voices sound so similar; the song doesn't differentiate their identities but melds them—it's the Persona of pop music. Whoa!

Here are two of the tracks Burgalat worked his magic on: the duet with Lemercier (who unfortunately doesn't sing enough—I think her only musical venture since her brilliant 1996 album, Chante, is last year's duet with ex-Mikado Pascale Borel, "J'ai un mari") and a song cowritten by Benoît de Villeneuve, who released a rather good album with ex–Nouvelle Vague siren Mélanie Pain a couple of years ago.

MP3 Christophe Willem and Valérie Lemercier "Pourquoi tu t'en vas?" (from Inventaire, 2007)
MP3 Christophe Willem "Demain" (from Inventaire, 2007)

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