posted on May 02, 2010 19:00
One of France's bona fide pop legends has just released a new album. 'La Pluie Sans Parapluie' (in English, "the rain without an umbrella") is the twenty-sixth studio album by Françoise Hardy.
You might recognise the name from her 1994 collaboration with Blur on 'La Comédie', a reworking of 'To The End'. However, like with Serge Gainsbourg (of whom more later), there's a lot more to Hardy than a sole Franco-English duet known in the U.K. (For one thing, she had a UK Top 20 hit in 1965 with 'All Over The World'.)
First, though, some vital Françoise Hardy trivia for your next pub quiz:
Factoids aside, we reckon Hardy was one of the first female singers to become successful with her own compositions - her 1962 debut single 'Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles' sold half a million copies. Her early style was somewhere between US folk and French chanson, often played simply on an acoustic guitar or piano.
Rare for a pre-electronica French act, Hardy made a concerted effort at success in the UK - she released three albums of songs in English, mostly containing translations of her original French songs. The third of these albums, 'If You Listen' from 1971, captures the late-'60s-early-'70s pastoral-folk-pop vibe: it's quite good. (You can picture students of that time listening to it in their bedsits.)
As for her best ever song, you might know it as a cover version. 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' was a 1990 hi-NRG disco hit for Jimmy Somerville and June Miles Kingston. Hardy's version was a French chart success in 1969 - and was itself a cover version.
Before 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' there was 'It Hurts To Say Goodbye' - a typically maudlin and manipulative slushfest by Vera Lynn. Apparently, Hardy heard an instrumental version, liked the melody and asked for some French lyrics from none other than Serge Gainsbourg. Words done en français, Serge then decided to sort out the music.
Even by the dizzyingly high standards of Gainsbourg's work at that time, 'Comment Te Dire Adieu' is magnificent. Like all great pop songs, its apparent simplicity hides a satisfying depth and complexity. The original's slushy melodrama is replaced by clipped arrangements that have an edgy sang-froid; listen just before the first verse for the pedal cymbal that hisses like a cobra. Serge's trademark symphonic strings infuse the song with glamour and a slight hint of feeling - but only a slight hint. Hardy remains impeccably poised and aloof throughout - even her spoken-word middle section is delivered matter-of-factly, like a dispassionate voiceover. (Compare it to the except of dialogue from Charlotte Gainsbourg used as the intro to Madonna's 'What It Feels Like For A Girl'.)
Just as remarkable as Gainsbourg's arrangements were his new lyrics. Already known as a provocateur, and with pop's most notorious single soon to follow, Serge had the ingenious idea of making nearly all the lines rhyme with '-ex'. As the '-ex' rhymes become more imaginative, the song progresses towards a seemingly inevitable encounter with the most taboo '-ex' word of all. (Even today, how many mainstream English-language pop songs feature the word 'sex'? Not the meaningless 'sexy' but the blunt 'sex'?) What's more, in French 'sexe' is the word for the reproductive organ. One can imagine the listener (and the censor) of the time wondering where this song would go.
(Had this song been released in the UK, it would have been banned by the BBC for an unacceptable '-ex' word: a piece of product placement in the third and final verse.)
'Adieu' is something of a definitive 'goodbye forever', where 'au revoir' means 'until we see each other again'. In English, of course, we can use 'goodbye' to mean both 'adieu' and 'au revoir'. Here in glorious colour is the ultra-cool Françoise Hardy of 1969 with 'Comment Te Dire Adieu'. Goodbye: