Julien Clerc, another fresh start
New album, Fou, peut-être
With his latest album, Fou, peut-être, the eternally youthful French pop star Julien Clerc cooks up some new combinations and innovations while preparing his tour with a symphonic orchestra early next year
There’s something reassuringly familiar about a new Julien Clerc album – yet every album brings its own surprise. He’s been producing great, romantic songs with the stamp of classic hits for donkey’s years, but each time he takes pains to root out different authors, lyrics and topics.
There are two very different ways of viewing Fou, peut-être. You can wonder at the unwavering purity of Clerc’s voice, his faithful consorts Maxime Le Forestier, Jean-Loup Dabadie, Gérard Manset and Gérard Duguet-Grasser, and his precise handling of such vast and luminous melodies. Alternatively, you can take your hat off to his capacity to renew himself by handing over the album’s production to Philippe Uminski, inviting young stars like Julien Doré, Alex Beaupain and Mike Ibrahim to come up with new lyrics, and even his first-time collaboration with a the old crooner Charles Aznavour.
Like Double enfance before it, the title for this album comes from a song written by Maxime Le Forestier, once more centred on an autobiographical subject – Clerc’s late fatherhood. The lyrics penned by his faithful friend can be read either as a play on words or perhaps a private joke.
Personal yet universal
A very intimate Julien Clerc and an emotional shock come at the end of the album with Sur la plage une enfant, a moving song about handicap. "Manset took his time to hand it over to me,” says Clerc, “He was hesitating. It’s a serious subject, so I wanted a sunny beat underlying the tune, so as not to add to the pathos.”
Sailing between the personal and the universal, the album explores a gamut of emotions and sentiment, sometimes described by writers who grew up listening to Clerc’s love songs. He clearly enjoys this baton passing just as much as he enjoyed composing an Aznavour-style tune for Les Souvenirs penned by Charles Aznavour – a play on inter-generational heritage.
It comes as little surprise to learn that he was working on the album at the same time as putting together his symphonic tour, due to kick off in January 2012. He met Philippe Uminski while looking for an arranger capable of writing for a proper orchestra and keeping the pop appeal of his big hits. "What initially convinced me was his work for Calogero and Johnny Hallyday rather than the orchestral arrangements he’d done."
Gradually, Uminski found himself arranging and producing all of the new songs: "It’s great to come face to face with a generation that has been familiar with my work ever since I started out, but that has had access to all kinds of music and can do stuff with machines.” The album has not only gained in diversity, but also in density, ranging from simply dressed piano-vocal tracks to great orchestral passages.
The album serves up sweeping orchestral movements and acoustic songs, solid rhythms and velvet tones – a variety that Clerc says is a reflection of “my very eclectic influences. From that point of view, it’s been wonderful for me to work on two consecutive albums with producers that are each in their own way musicians right down to their toes.” Because before Uminski on Fou, peut-être, there was Benjamin Biolay on Où s’en vont les avions? After Biolay asked him to accompany him on the piano, Uminski suggested that the singer should record with the whole orchestra “old style”, i.e. live. He also added an array of paradoxical arrangements, blending vintage keyboards and Melotrons with classic instruments.
Clerc enjoys these mixes, just as he enjoys working with younger colleagues like Julien Doré, Alex Beaupain and Mike Ibrahim. Although the first two are new acquaintances, the third played support act to his latest concerts at the Palais des Sports – “He has something that you can’t invent, and that’s the ability to make people listen to him, even those who don’t know him.” And working with Charles Aznavour was also an enriching experience: “He has the same fresh approach to the trade and creation as I try to have. The album has twelve tracks, but we actually recorded fifteen. I’m still amazed that I can come up with fifteen songs, and I still get just as much of a kick out of it.”
Julien Clerc Fou, peut-être (EMI) 2011
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper