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November 17th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Music · 2 Comments · Music

On Saturday I bought a couple of CDs while shopping in France.  I have been picking up French music for about 20 years now with mixed results.  It started when I mistakenly thought that it would help with my language skills.  This was before the days of the Internet and its many lyrics databases, so it only really helped when bands printed lyrics on the album sleeve.  I did pick up some interesting colloquialisms for a while, but it all stopped being useful when I got into some French rappers and reggae artists.

At the same time I was also going out of my way to watch French films with English subtitles in the vain hope that just being exposed to the sound of the language would help supplement the teach yourself books and tapes.  When I stopped visiting Paris every couple of weeks on average my interest dropped off, but I still kept the habit of listening to the music.

French and other European music gets a lot of criticism over here, often dismissed as ‘europop’, and there is someof it that I would not touch with a bargepole (Sardou par example) but I always found a lot to enjoy as well.  Back in the 80’s and early 90’s there were a lot of chances to hear foreign music – bands would turn up on Rapido or on MTV Europe, which was still truly pan-European then and still showed music rather than crappy reality TV.  Also there were channels like RTL2, Sat1, Rai Uno and others freely available on the Astra satellite.  Despite the proliferation of media channels now it is actually harder to come across European acts without scouring Youtube to look for them.

Anyway, back then I would see a video on MTV by someone like Tonton David and make a mental note that I liked it.  When I was abroad I would have some idea of bands and artists I might like.  Now when I go into a French record shop I have no idea about anything.  I already have everything by Mano Negra, Les Negresses Vertes, Manu Chao, and as much as I want of Niagara, Noir Desir and others I know about and buying music is a lot more speculative and hit-and-miss.

Last year I struck lucky with the purchase of Yannick Noah and Mokobe.  This year I played safe with another Yannick Noah CD and risked a Laurent Voulzy CD, which may have been a mistake…

Voulzy is a lot more in the ‘chanson’ tradition than the French rock, rap and indie music I usually go for.  When I first skimmed through I thought it sounded a bit like Charlelie Couture, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but when I listened to it all the way through I got a real shock – it is basically a sort of French Stars on 45!

There are a few short original songs, but interspersed with songs where big (mostly British and American) songs are mixed together.  That could be OK in small doses, and there are some interesting choices in there, but the balance of music on the CD (Recollection) is about 15 minutes of original material and 30 minutes of covers.

One of these cover-fests is pure Jive Bunny, covering all sorts of Beatles and Stones songs plus other 60s standards although a later one features less obvious songs like Video Killed The Radio Star, Relax and Its Raining Again. All in all I was a bit disappointed. Next time I am away I shall make sure to get some recommendations from some of the French interns our workplace is full of!

One small source of amusement (or should that be bemusement?) came when I was browsing the small print of the CD insert.  There is a list of all the writing credits which is, because of the nature of the album, quite a long list and hidden in the middle of that list is the writing credit for Relax – the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song – which they think was written by “D.Albarn”.   By my reckoning Damon would have been about 15 when Relax came out so it is unlikely on several levels.

If anybody else shares my interest in foreign-language pop and rock and has any recommendations they will all be greatfully received. The two things that would most improve my enjoyment of my infrequent trips across the channel are Britain’s adoption of the Euro and the discovery of some great European bands I can add to my collection.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • skud's sister

    Despite the shortcomings of this method of language learning it may be better than the one I heard you suggest once – getting the Hugo French in three months book and sleeping with it under your pillow for three months.
    I recently looked up the lyrics for Ca Plane Pour Moi – which is on the MP3 player I wear in the gym and may one day kill me – and found out that knowing the words in English didn’t really help me understand the song at all…

  • Skuds

    Maybe not as bad as you think. Bloody rubbish on its own, and will not really help much with vocabulary or grammar, but handy for pronunciation and accent.

    I did, however, pick up some nice vernacular phrases from LNV and some strange euphemisms from Elmer Food Beat – from whom I also learnt the word for crankshaft, even if I can’t remember the spelling.