Sunday, June 09, 2013

Jenifer's 'Déclaration': an unauthorised tribute

It seems no time since Jenifer Bartoli released her last album - "L'Amour & Moi". September 2012 to be precise.  Yet just 9 months after that album comes "Ma Déclaration"; it's not another album of new material though, but it's that curious and pointless exercise which many artists resort to during their careers - the covers album.  

In this instance, it's a tribute album to France Gall, who won the Eurovision Song Contest with "Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son" in 1965 and went on to become one of the best-loved singers in French music history.  Her songs were regularly featured every year in Star Academy, which brings us nicely back to series 1 winner Jenifer.  

But why the quick release of this album?  A look at the chart positions in France for the 3 singles released from the last album may provide the answer. Even "Sur Le Fil", the first single from the album only got to no. 24 despite lots of publicity and heavy rotation on the music video channels when I was in France last September.  Her last two albums have failed to repeat the success of her early work; which suggests that her 11 year music career is on the wane. Thus the quick fix of the covers album.  

But here's where the fun starts....because France Gall, the notoriously reclusive singer who announced her retirement from music in 1997, is not happy.  In an interview with the Metro newspaper published last week, Jenifer claimed that her tribute album had been approved by France Gall, however this turned out not to be the case.  France then asked for a right of reply in Metro!yUG30uzDGHky6/ in which she said that she was never approached, knew nothing about it and never gave her authorisation for the project, ending her statement with "...I will say no more."  Apparently Jenifer and France had never spoken to each other in years.  Significantly, the title of the album was changed from the original "I Love France" to "Ma Déclaration" and there is no mention of France Gall's name in any of the advertising.  

Then there is the role of TF1, the channel which played a major role in Jenifer's rise to fame as the winner of Star Academy in 2001.  "Samedi Soir On Chante France Gall", a TV special featuring Jenifer and several other French artists was broadcast last Saturday night.  Very convenient promotion for this new album, don't you think?  But I digress.  Is the album any good?  Well, I like Jenifer, and I like France Gall, so that's a good place to start.  

The songs are very familiar to French music fans, and are remade in Jenifer's easy-going pop style, although "Evidemment" and "Diego" lose the emotional pull of the original versions and are just too lightweight. The original version of  "Ella, Elle L'a", my favourite France Gall song, still sounds as fresh today as it did 25 years ago, yet the version on this album sounds a little cheap and throwaway.  The wonderful Christophe Willem gets involved for a cover of France's duet with Michel Berger, "Ça balance pas mal à Paris" which is ok and not too different from the quirky original. It's only on "Resiste" and "Message Personnel" where Jenifer really manages to stamp her own authority on the songs. Going back to my original comment though, the whole thing is a pretty pointless exercise, as with all cover albums you find yourself wanting to listen to the original versions.  It's a bit like a rush-released covers-packed first album by an Idol winner, or the Star Academy albums from a few years ago, the latter also coincidentally being more of a cheap marketing exercise by TF1 and Universal rather than an attempt at any artistic credibility.  

Although first week sales are good (the album currently stands at no.2 in the French iTunes chart) I can't see this having the sustained success of the "Generation Goldman" album which has done very well over the last few months in France.  This was a similar tribute project and TV special featuring a number of today's artists interpreting the classic songs of the excellent Jean-Jacques Goldman. 

All in all, there is nothing particularly wrong with "Ma Déclaration", but it's a rather unnecessary project and it doesn't bode well if you don't have the approval of the artist whom you are paying tribute to! 

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