If any one Jacques Brel album can be said to encapsulate everything he means to a rock/pop-oriented audience, his fourth LP is the one. Four of its ten songs have since become virtual standards. "Seul" (as "Alone") and "La Valse a Mille Temps" ("Carousel") are perhaps best known for the interpretations included in the Alive and Well stage play, but both have been recorded much farther and wider than that. "La Mort" ("My Death") was a regular component of David Bowie's live show during 1972-1973, and again in the mid-'90s, while Scott Walker also cut a popular version. And "Ne Me Quitte Pas" "If You Go Away" has been set upon by so many MOR crooners that it is sometimes easy to forget there ever was an "original" version of the song, let alone one which is performed in French. Since this most crippling heartbroken of lyrics was translated into English by Rod McKuen in the early '60s, just two of countless covers come close to the sheer desolation of Brel's original performance, the impassioned piano and voice interpretation which haunts the first Marc & the Mambas album, and the fresh translation unveiled by Momus on his own debut album. The remainder, a litany which runs from Terry Jacks to Frank Sinatra, are but the palest shadows by comparison. To dwell on the magnificence of its best-known songs, however, is to overlook the quality which relentlessly drives the remainder of this album. With Francois Rauber now firmly installed as Brel's orchestrator of choice, the album spawned hit after hit -- "Les Flamandes," Brel's moving tribute to his Belgian heritage; "La Dame Patronesse," a smirkingly conspiratorial piece set to a charmingly clumsy piano; even "La Mort" proved a major smash, although it must be pointed out that the grandiloquent self-pity which permeates the best-known English language renditions is nowhere to be found in Brel's vocabulary. His death waits with barely disguised good humor -- unlike the grimmer demise awaiting the young soldiers who pack the railway station in "La Colombe." Set against the turmoil of France's then on-going war in north Africa, the song is neither the first nor the loudest of Brel's anti-war compositions. It is, however, one of the most moving. Not to be confused with the Serge Gainsbourg composition of the same name, "Je T'aime" is nevertheless as passionate as its better-known namesake (albeit without the orgasms), while "La Tendresse" (to rhyme, of course, with "le diable caresse" -- the devil caresses) is one of those anti-love love songs at which Brel had long since proven himself a master. Jacques Brel 4 was Brel's final studio album for the Philips label. However, it also marked the beginning of his so-cautious romance with the United States. With a handful of revisions, it would become his first U.S. LP later in the year.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson