Welcome to my French pop and rock section... Here are a few recommendations to albums I've enjoyed that I think you might like as well, ranging from 1960s ye-ye to a few more contemporary albums from France's blossoming indie and electronica scenes. There is also a separate section for older musical styles, such as chanson and musette, if you like the old stuff, too!
Brigette Bardot - see artist profile
Alain Bashung - see artist profile
Camille Bazbaz "Dubadelik" (Island, 1996)
Camille Bazbaz "Une Envie De Chien" (Universal, 2000)
(Produced by Stephane Benhamou)
Dub, electronic pop and neo-soul and fusion, as reimagined through hip, modern French ears. If you like Augustus Pablo, Sly Stone and Serge Gainsbourg, and wish they'd gotten together sometimes to jam... well, you might wanna check this out! Not entirely my cup of tea, but it is cool and well-conceived. Definitely worth checking out.
Camille Bazbaz "Sur Le Bout De La Langue" (Sony-BMG/Columbia, 2005)
Is it warpy, poppy dub, or dubby, warpy pop? Either way, it's pretty hip and I'm sure it'll have its fans. More melodic highlights include "Dans Ma Nature," and the piano-based "Le Professionel," as well as "Loin Derriere" (which was later recorded by actress Sandrine Kiberlain, on her debut album...) The dub stuff doesn't do as much for me (although it is interesting to hear French rock that places heavier emphasis on rhythm) but there's enough variety on here that there may be a little bit of something for everyone. Worth checking out.
Camille Bazbaz "Le Bonheur Fantome" (Sony-BMG/Columbia, 2007)
Camille Bazbaz "La Chose" (2010)
BB Brunes "Blonde Comme Moi" (Warner-France, 2007)
A charming throwback to the punky-punk clanging about of the Clash, the Damned, the '77 set and some of their immediate offspring... The most immediate cliche would be to label them "a French Green Day", although BB Brunes do have their own personality and unique vitality. It's cute and catchy -- a little predictable, but worth checking out.
Alex Beaupain "Garcon d'Honneur" (Naive, 2005)
Alex Beaupain "Dans Paris" (Soundtrack) (Naive, 2007)
Alex Beaupain "Les Chansons D'Amour" (Soundtrack) (Naive, 2007)
Alex Beaupain "33 Tours" (EMI, 2008)
(Produced by Frederic Lo)
Sleekly produced indie-pop, with an emphasis on melody and tunefulness. At first I was really into it -- maybe the opening tracks are the strongest? -- but by the end of the album I was a little bored. It felt too controlled and safe, and too perfectly, professionally produced. I like Beaupain, but somehow this album lacked spark.
Alex Beaupain "Non Ma Fille Tu n'Iras Pas Dan" (Soundtrack) (Naive, 2009)
Benabar/Various Artists "La P'tite Monnaie" (Arion, 1997)
The debut album by Bruno Nicolini, aka Benabar, a leading light of the new, youthful, rock-friendly chanson scene of the modern-day French hipoisie.
Benabar "Benabar" (BMG/Zomba, 2001)
(Produced by Alain Cluzeau)
Benabar "Les Risques Du Metier" (2003)
Benabar "Live Au Grand Rex" (2004)
Benabar "Reprise Des Negociations" (2005)
His biggest selling album to date...
Benabar "Infrequentable" (Sony-BMG, 2008)
French avant-pop... I'm not that familiar with Benabar's work, but he is one of the new generation of innovative rock-chanson artists, and this disc seems to be pretty popular with the French hipoisie. I look forward to checking it out...
Benabar "The Best Of..." (Sony-BMG, 2008)
This best-of set might be a good way to check him out as well... Sounds sort of like generic alt-rock to me, but I haven't spent a lot of time with the record yet...
Bense "Album" (Naive, 2006)
A groovy, very listenable acousto-indiepop set from France. I thought this was quite pleasant, with kind of an Andy White vibe. As far as I can tell, this is the only album Bense has recorded so far... The "Reedition" and "Nouvelle Edition" CDs have the same tracks, just different album art. Either way, it's nice music.
Bense "Album: Nouvelle Edition" (Naive, 2009)
This appears to be the same album as above, with one additional track not included on the 2008 edition. Go figure.
Berry "Mademoiselle" (Universal, 2008)
Bertrand Betsch "Soupe A La Grimace" (EMI, 1997)
Bertrand Betsch "B.B Sides" (Virgin, 2002)
Bertrand Betsch "Pas De Bras, Pas De Chocolat " (EMI, 2004)
Bertrand Betsch "La Chaleur Humaine" (Pias, 2007)
Bertrand Betsch "Je Vais Au Silence" (Virgin, 2010)
Bertrand Betsch "Le Temps Qu'il Faut" (Virgin, 2011)
Agnes Bihl "Merci Maman Merci Papa" (Naive, 2007)
Agnes Bihl "Demandez Le Programme" (Naive, 2008)
Bikini Machine "...Joue Dutronc" (Platinum, 1996)
An homage to ye-ye rocker Jacques Dutronc...
Benjamin Biolay "Rose Kennedy" (Virgin, 2002)
The album that put writer/crooner/producer Benjamin Biolay on the map, packed with arch, ironic lyrics and densely arranged, uber-hip pop arrangments -- plenty of delerious, wonderfully gratuitous string arrangements, with counterpoint provided by an insouciant electric guitar, and Biolay's cool, whispery vocals. It's quite nice. If you have a soft spot for, say, Serge Gainsbourg, or any of the slightly hipper chanson balladeers, then this disc may really wow you. It's over-the-top, in a calm, confident, sassy kinda way, suggesting an expansive, brazen postmodern pop sensibility to match that of the more bombastic UK Britpop scene, just without the shrillness or needless aggressiveness. Anyway, it's a cool album, with beautiful, aqueous melodies and a narcotized sense of rhythm, and is, I think, better than the follow-up (reviewed below)... Check it out!
Benjamin Biolay "Remix" (EP) (EMI, 2002)
Remixes seven songs from Rose Kennedy, including "Los Angeles," with Keren Ann.
Benjamin Biolay "Negatif" (Virgin, 2003)
Captivating, though perhaps overly calculated, French trip-pop, with elaborately layered, slickly produced, acoustic-to-orchestral soundscapes and cool, laconic vocals. Biolay, who cops an idea or two from Serge Gainsbourg, is also known as the producer of Coralie Clement's recent Salle Des Pas Perdus album... This disc seems more rich and resonant -- it's actually a 2-CD set, with the first disc a full-on display of his arranging techniques, and the second disc a quieter, mainly acoustic affair. It's all pretty good, even if at times it's almost painfully lofty and arch... But then again, he's just being true to his sources! If you like Serge Gainsbourg, Bertrand Burgulat, Francoise Hardy and the like, then this is an album worth checking out... There's something about it that leaves me a little cold, but I still think it's a good album.
Benjamin Biolay/Various Artists "Clara Et Moi" (Soundtrack) (Virgin, 2004)
Benjamin Biolay & Chiara Mastroianni "Home" (Virgin, 2004)
A collaboration with Biolay's wife, Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of actors Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. Haven't heard it yet, but I'll let you know when I track it down...
Benjamin Biolay "A L'Origine" (EMI, 2005)
(Produced by Benjamin Biolay & Dominique Blanc-Francard)
Another densely-layered pop-orchestral outing, with perhaps a stronger guitar-rock structural base than before. This album is majestic, but mechanical -- it's intellectually impressive, although I'm not sure how often I would really return to it just for listening pleasure. Includes "Adieu Triste Amour," a duet with the ever-fab Francoise Hardy. A lot of this might be nice in a mix of music, but as an album it's a bit hard to take. Brilliant genius and all, but I wish he'd relax a little.
Benjamin Biolay "Trash YeYe" (Virgin-France, 2007)
(Produced by Benjamin Biolay & Benedicte Schmitt)
Why... It's almost as if he'd read my last review! Here's an alluring album, more subtle and reserved than his last couple of records, yet still with its moments of purposeful excess. The opening tracks, particularly the discretely acoustic opening song, "Bien Avant," are cheerfully anchored in traditional French chanson but with each track he shifts into more modern terrain. Biolay's blend of rock drums, harmonic string orchestrations and softcore electronica coloration has been honed to perfection, and his half-detached, half-intimate husky whispering sets a gloriously wicked, relaxed tone. Less pleasant are the easy ironies of the keening, pointedly irritating background vocals on "Cactus Concerto" (an obvious homage to the spaghetti western soundtracks of the 1960s and '70s) or the grinding, prefab, alt-rock guitars of "Regarder La Lumiere," but on balance this is a fine album, and closer in spirit to his highly-regarded debut, Rose Kennedy. Biolay is still an icy-cool, tres hip pop-music smartypants, but her sure can make some seductive sounds when he wants to. A fine album for fans who like to imagine their musical heros with a cigarette dangling from their lips at every moment... The music itself is smoky and seductive enough to merit a warning from the Surgeon General!
Benjamin Biolay "La Superbe" (Virgin, 2009)
Benjamin Biolay "Pourquoi Tu Pleures?" (Naive, 2011)
Ronnie Bird "Twistin' The Rock, v.2" (Universal, 2002)
Ronnie Bird "L'Integrale EP & Singles Collection: 1964-1968" (2006)
A 10-CD box set... yikes!
Burt Blanca "French EP Collection" (Magic, 2007)
Twist-era guitar instrumental cover tunes, ala The Shadows...
Lucky Blondo "Multiplication" (Universal/Fontana , 2003)
Lucky Blondo "Twisting The Rock" (Universal, 2006)
Bombes 2 Bal "Danse Avec Ta Grand-Mere" (Tot Ou Tard, 2004)
Bombes 2 Bal "Bal Indigene" (Tot Ou Tard, 2007)
Mathieu Boogaerts "Ondule Special" (Remark Records, 1995)
A 4-song EP that preceded the Super album (below).
Mathieu Boogaerts "Super" (Remark Records, 1995)
The premiere album by this canny, playful indie trickster... It's anchored in fairly mainstream "alt-rock", with some abrupt, obvious touches, springing from a pop + indiepop vantage point, with softened splashes of reggae and lovely, silky vocals throughout. It's that softness that you should pay attention to: Boogaerts' later work would become surpassingly mellow, lulling, and wonderful. This early album is consistently engaging and warm, although the rock arrangements can be a little intrusive.
Mathieu Boogaerts "Version Simple" (1998)
A limited-edition 4-song EP...
Mathieu Boogaerts "J'En Ai Marre d'Etre Deux" (Island, 1998)
His second album is even more forceful, with a more jarring feel. Even so, the songs are still playful and engaging, even if the arty rock riffs feel kind of canned. You may have to work at appreciating this one, in a way his later albums don't require, but it's still pretty interesting, and his vocal style is quite appealing.
Mathieu Boogaerts "En Public" (1999)
Mathieu Boogaerts "2000" (Tot Ou Tard, 2002)
A dreamy, playful, delightful mix of moods and styles... Odd, off-kilter indiepop interlaced with jazzy music-hall shuffles, as well as a hint of reggae, chanson and folk, all cloaking Boogaert's gentle, appealing vocals. I really love this record. It's consistently engaging, inventive and fun... packed with catchy melodies and very easy on the ears. This was the first of his albums that I came across, and it's still my favorite... Highly recommended!
Mathieu Boogaerts "...En Concert Solo" (DVD) (Tot Ou Tard, 2003)
Mathieu Boogaerts "Michel" (Tot Ou Tard, 2005)
A remarkably soft, quiet, melodic and minimalist album, still in the rock idiom, but super-relaxed and tranquil. I wouldn't say it's as arresting as 2000's 2000, but it's certainly one of his best albums and very easy on the ears. The sort of thing you could listen to over and over, and be happy every time. A standout track is the lilting "Siliguri," which although it's named after a Bengali metropolis and talks about traveling to Hawaii, has a beautiful African-tinged melody, and one of the strongest, most conventional refrains on the entire album. As with other Boogaerts albums, this also has hints of reggae and blues... Lulling and mature; tres bien.
Mathieu Boogaerts "I Love You" (Discograph, 2008)
I really like Boogaerts' puckish, playful approach to indie-pop, and I was really excited to see he has a new album out, but I have to confess I haven't been wowed by this record yet. It hews too closely to the kitschier confines of New Wave/electro kitsch, and doesn't have as many of the sneaky, brainworm melodies and harmonies that make some of his other recordings so surprising and delightful. I'll try it again when I can, but I guess I wasn't the right listener for this album.
Mathieu Boogaerts "Mercredi! En Concert! A La Java!" (Tot Ou Tard, 2010)
Les Bourgeois De Calais "Nut Rocker" (Magic, 2005)
A CD reissue of a 4-song EP from the 1960s. I think these guys were one of the many French guitar bands that were trying to sound like The Shadows... Their version of B. Bumble's "Nut Rocker" is a pretty lively guitar showcase, while "Les Cavaliers Du Ciel" is an instrumental version of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" worthy of Duane Eddy, in his slower moments. The other two tracks are mid-tempo vocal tunes. Not earthshaking, but not bad.
Les Bourgeois De Calais "Sur Un Marche Persan" (EP) (Magic, 2006)
Another 4-song EP from the 1960s. Features "Round And Round," "Sur Un Marche Persan," "Le Copain Que J'Ai Choisi" and "Hully Baby." As with the first EP, this features two instrumentals and two vocal tunes, all of which are more lively than the first disc. Not bad!
Les Bourgeois De Calais "Anthology: 1962-1998" (Magic, 2008)
Gerard Brent "Fille Qui Me Plait" (Magic, 2001)
A CD reissue of a 4-song EP from the 1960s. The lead track, "Fille Qui Me Plait," is a Frenchified version of "Hippy Hippy Shake."
Francoiz Breut "Francoiz Breut" (Lithium, 1997)
WOW. One of the most striking, alluring, atmospheric, jazzy, sexy French albums you're likely to hear. If you are looking for a truly enchanting, truly different-sounding record to groove out on, give this a try. Produced along with her boyfriend, Dominique A, this features smoky, Marianne Faithfull-style vocals swathed in a cloak of dreamy, somewhat foreboding arrangements not unlike Marc Ribot-era Tom Waits, or (dare I say it?) the Cowboy Junkies. Back when I was a for-real radio DJ, this was one of those records that every time I'd play, the phones rang off the hook with folks who wanted to know what I was playing. It's that kinda record. Highly recommended.
Francoiz Breut "Vingt A Trente Mille Jours" (Labels/Virgin France, 2000)
Though not as haunting as her previous album, this shares much of the same brooding grace that endeared France's most downcast mademoiselle to listeners in the late 1990s. Aided once again by Dominique A, Breut has also enlisted many of France's most illustrious indiepoppers, including folks such as Phillipe Katarine and members of Autour de Lucie. The result is a lighter-sounding album which sheds the murky, mystical gravity of her earlier Tom Waits-y leanings in favor of a muted, slightly xylophonic orchestral pop, ala Tindersticks. Although not as immediately spooky as her first album, this is still powerful and poetic, and will hopefully will draw even more listeners into her orbit. Also highly recommended.
Francoiz Breut "Une Saison Volee" (WEA/Tribu, 2005)
Uber-cool and all over the map stylistically, generally speaking this has a harder sound than her earlier albums, and a more mainstream pop-rock feel. A bit of Bjork in there, as well, perhaps? Anyway, this is a listenable, pleasant record, but it doesn't have as much of the mystical, spooky vibe as her earlier albums... Worth checking out, but some fans might be disappointed.
Francoiz Breut "A L'Aveuglette" (Le Pop Musik, 2008)
French nouvelle scene chanteuese Francoiz Breut shifts gears a bit for a more upbeat, more conventionally indie-rock outing... There's still some moody material, but on the whole this is a more playful and overtly guitar-oriented album. She still has that same Nico-esque whisper, just with a hint of a more lighthearted approach this time around. Co-composer/arranger Boris Gronemberger adds his touches, but this is unmistakably Breuterrific... If you're a fan, you'll want to check this out!
Billy Bridge & Les Mustangs "L'Integrale Sixties" (Magic, 2007)
Carla Bruni "Quel Qu'un Ma' Dit'" (V2/BMG, 2005)
Laid-back cool and acoustic-based minimalism is the watchword on this fine set of whispery, alluring French indiepop tunes. The arrangements are pretty simple -- pretty-sounding acoustic guitar with the occasional addition of simple but not unpleasant slide work -- and the main attraction lies in Bruni's vocals, a mix of too-cool hush, and deft, dancing verbal playfulness. The music is nice, and her complex toungetwisters are just icing on the cake. Forget the comparisons to the incomparable Francoise Hardy -- they're just pointless and unimaginative -- but feel free to enjoy Bruni's music in its own right. You'll be quite pleased; this one's a gem. Oh, and did we already mention that Bruni is a French-Italian supermodel, as well as an industrial heiress (from the Tedeschi family) or that before this she had composed several songs that Julien Clerc recorded on his album Si J'Etais Elle? Or that she dated Mick Jagger, Donald Trump and a bunch of other famous dudes? Must be nice. Well, except the dating Donald Trump part. Also: Kevin Costner? Eww. Anyway, this is a great record, totally worth checking out.
Carla Bruni "No Promises" (Naive, 2007)
Bruni definitely follows her own muse here, switching from alluring, dreamy French acousti-pop to a somewhat riskier mode, choosing not only to sing in English, but to adapt the work of various English-language poets into pop-song format. The material comes straight out of a standard English poetry anthology: W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Dorothy Parker, Christina Rosetti and William Butler Yeats... and Bruni wrests some fascinating lyrical turns out of the various texts, with sympathetic accompaniment from ex-Telephone guitarist Louis Bertignac. In pop terms, her version of Yeats's "Those Dancing Days Are Gone" is the album's catchiest track, but there are plenty of fine tune on here. This might not catch your fancy as readily as the Quel Qu'un Ma' Dit album, but give it a chance, and it will grow on you. Definitely worth checking out...
Carla Bruni "Comme Si De Rien N'etait" (Naive, 2008)
(Produced by Dominique Blanc-Francard)
On her third solo album, supermodel-songwriter Carla Bruni -- now the wife of French president Nicolas Zarkozy -- pursues a more mature musical tack, bringing in a full pop band, as well as classical instrumentation, soprano saxophone and even a sweet dash of country-flavored pedal steel. I know people who loved her first album, which was primarily acoustic-based, who dislike this one, but I find it similarly understated and alluring, and it grows on you with each new audition. Most of the songs are Bruni's own compositions, although there are some notable covers, including an English-language version of the American pop-country standard, "You Belong To Me," as well as a poem by French novelist Michel Houellebecq that Bruni has set to music. (Since Houellebecq is seem by many as a conservative, anti-immigrant political figure, this last inclusion may be an indication of Bruni's social leanings, but I'm not immersed enough in contemporary French politics to offer an intelligent opinion on that matter... The song sounds pretty, even though the harmonica at the end is a little distracting.) Along with her own cohort of talented musicians, Bruni also plays host to Benjamin Biolay one of France's younger go-to arrangers, on the track "L'Amoureuse" -- it'd be interesting to hear more collaborations from these two. Although I wouldn't say this album was as immediately arresting and enchanting as Bruni's seductive debut, it's still pretty groovy. If you liked her last two albums, you'll definitely want to check this out as well.
Bumcello "Bumcello" (2000)
Bumcello "Nude For Love" (Tot Ou Tard, 2002)
Bumcello "Animal Sophistique" (Tot Ou Tard, 2005)
Bumcello "Lychee Queen" (Tot Ou Tard, 2008)
Bertrand Burgalat "The Sssound Of Music" (Tricatel/Emperor Norton, 2000)
A brilliantly executed set of dense, exuberant high-tech mix'n'match pop, made by the French producer who has sculpted some of April March's glossier recent efforts. This is a seamless merger of retro-'60s melodicism and bouncy trip-hoppish pop, similar to Katerine's work (see below) but a bit less cerebral and a bit more likely to induce actual booty shaking. The chorus on "Sunshine Yellow" ("...white powder/biochemical reaction...") really gave me the creeps when I heard it following the post-September 11th anthrax mail scare, even though the song is just about doing the laundry. Great record... recommended!
Bertrand Burgalat "The Genius Of Bertrand Burgulat" (Tricatel, 2000)
...and the modesty!
Bertrand Burgalat "...Meets A. S. Dragon" (Tricatel, 2001)
Live versions of the songs from the Sssound album...
Bertrand Burgalat "Sunshine Yellow" (Emperor Norton, 2001)
Bertrand Burgalat "Portrait-Robot" (Hit Thing, 2005)
Bertrand Burgalat "Inedits" (Tricatel, 2007)
Bertrand Burgalat "Cheri B.B." (Tricatel, 2007)
French Music Index
French Chanson & Musette