Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel 2

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Jacques Brel was on tour when he learned that a song from his most recent EP release, "Quand on N'a Que l'Amour," had hit number three on the French chart. The song fell like a hand grenade into the comfortable world of French pop in the mid-1950s -- not through its sentiments (the best known English version, "If We Only Have Love," is as worthy a translation as any) or through its delivery, but via an almost intangible sense that in Jacques Brel, France had finally been gifted a hero as relevant to its modern culture as Elvis Presley was to America, or Tommy Steele to Britain. Maybe even more so. Since the release of his debut album, Brel had launched into a period of considerable musical experimentation, pairing himself with a string of different accompanists in an attempt to find that which most suited his material. Neither Michael Legrand nor Andre Popp matched his standards, however, and Brel finally returned to Francois Raubert, with whom he had recorded the earlier mini-hit "Sur la Place." The wisdom of his decision became immediately apparent, as "Quand on N'a Que l'Amour" soared up the chart and work immediately began on completing Brel's next album. Jacques Brel 2 can scarcely be expected to match up to either the brilliance of his debut or the magnificence of the hit. Acting to strike while the commercial iron was hot, Philips chose to draw its contents from the stockpile of material Brel had recorded over the past two years, ensuring just one other Raubert recording, the initially eerie, and utterly hymn-like "L'Air de la Betise" made the set. Other cuts were drawn from the Popp and Legrand sessions, with the occasionally less-than-sympathetic results Brel had already noted. Nevertheless, some undisputed masterpieces emerged. "Pardons" is a slight song raised to unexpected heights by its smoky jazz club backing, while "J'En Appelle" could easily have competed with the broad pop ballads which would soon be unleashed by the English likes of Billy Fury and Cliff Richard. "La Bourree Du Celibataire," better known to English audiences as "Bachelor's Dance," is a bawdily infectious singalong, while the raw violin which opens "Heureux" elucidates a pain which Brel's haunted delivery stretches to panoramic proportions. The melodic similarity to "Quand on N'a Que l'Amour," incidentally, was surely deliberate, bookending the eight-song heart of the original album release, before the set closed with the only true (but nevertheless enjoyable) throwaway in sight, "Les Bles."

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