When I first heard that Jarvis Cocker was releasing an album of chanson covers my ear picked up. Having been a fan of the chanson tradition for years – lyric-driven songs, typically in French – and knowing that Cocker has lived in Paris, off and on, since 2003 this felt like a good fit. Then factor that ‘Aline’ features in Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch, and that Cocker and Anderson picked the songs together, it felt like an ideal match. ‘Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top’ (Tip-Top Boredom Songs).
‘Dans Ma Chambre’ kicks the album off in fine form. Originally recorded by Dalida but made famous in the UK by The Walker Brothers on the 1966 album ‘Portrait’, it loses none of its ceremonial pageantry. The funeral march intro grabs your attention then Cocker’s desolate, and imploring, vocals drift from the speakers. Songs by Nino Ferrer & Radiah, Brigitte Bardot and Marie LaFôret follow. Then the raucous freakbeat/ye-ye of ‘Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous’ explodes from the speakers. Jacques Dutronc originally performed ‘Les Gens Sont Fous, Les Temps Sont Flous’ (loosely translated ‘People are Mad, Times are Fuzzy’) on his underrated 1966 debut. If this album had been in English, it would be considered one of the greatest albums of all time. C’est la vie… The crunching guitar on Cocker’s version feels even more dirtier than on the original. For the first time on the album, you get the impression that Cocker is just loving performing this song, and it starts to become his song, rather than someone else’s.
It’s moments like this that really make ‘Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top’ a delight to listen to. Another standout moment is when Lætitia Sadier, from Stereolab, duets with Cocker on ‘Paroles, Paroles.’ This version is filled with all the romance and longing of the Dalida and Alain Delon original. Sadier’s sensual vocals ooze out of the speakers, with Cocker’s whispered vocals adding extra texture. Covers of Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Claude Channes Chinoise, and Max Berlin classics all follow swiftly. Then ‘Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top’ closes with the song that started the whole project Christophe’s ‘Aline.’ While listening to ‘Aline’ there is a feeling of saving the best ‘til last, but that does the previous 12-songs a disservice. Each would be a fine closing track, but there is something about keeping ‘Aline’ for last that makes sense. As with the original its bombastic, verbose, weirdly emotional, and hugely enjoyable.
If this is your first experience with these songs, and you like them, Cocker, and Anderson, have given you an ideal springboard to dive down rabbit hole of ever artist. If you are familiar with these songs, it is a rewarding experience as you have something to compare them to. While they never quite match the majesty of the originals, few covers rarely do, they come pretty close. Overall ‘Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top’ is a pretty fun album.
The songs selected by Cocker and Anderson are filled with all the pomp and melancholy that made me fall in love with Chanson in the first place. French covers in English work perfectly well, Scott Walker and Mick Harvey released exceptional covers of Jacques Brel and Gainsbourg, praise must be given to Cocker for tackling the songs in their native language and not singing them in English. Even though I don’t speak French as well as I’d like, Cocker’s French is even more charming for having a slight Yorkshire twang to it. ‘Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top’ might be the strongest album Cocker has released since his 2006 debut, but that does the dirty on ‘Beyond the Pale’ and ‘Further Complications’. This is an album made with love. Love for the culture of his adopted home, but mostly a love of music in all its forms and styles. As Cocker and Sadier sing on ‘Paroles, Paroles’: “Easy words, fragile words, it was too beautiful..”
Words: Nick Roseblade
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