Nine songs spread over ten inches of shellac, Jacques Brel's debut album descended upon the French scene of the mid-'50s like an alien invasion. One moment, the chain-smoking Belgian singer/songwriter was a minor name struggling for survival around the Paris nightclubs, frequently playing his intense little songs at six different venues a night; the next, the gleeful "Il Peut Pleuvoir" and the contrarily sober "Sur la Place" were rewriting the very nature of the chanson. Where once was simple emoting, Brel implanted emotion. Where once was ribaldry, Brel inserted drollness. And where once local music was for squares and their parents, Brel was feted by teenaged rock & rollers. Jacques Brel et Ses Chansons, the album which ignited the iconoclasm, is ferociously confident. Although only one of the songs will be immediately familiar to a "rock" audience -- Marc Almond covered "Le Diable (Ca Va)" (as "The Devil" on his Jacques album) -- still there is an instantly recognizable compulsion to the performance. Brel's mellifluous, half-smiling, half-snarling voice gallops across the landscape, paced all the way by the richly textured and deeply imaginative accompaniment of Andre Grassi and his orchestra; the snatch of French accordion which punctuates the dark delivery of "Il Nous Faut Regarder" is both hideously apposite and rudely ironic. It is not all doom and gloom, of course -- indeed, Brel's reputation for morbidity and misery is more the premise of his louder English acolytes than of his own work. "C'est Comme Ca" is insanely jovial, a veritable machine gun of leaping lyric and frolicking instrumentation; "Il Peut Pleuvoir" shares a similar outlook, while "Le Fou Du Roi" apparently stepped out of the court of Marie Antoinette, all sweetly chiming harpsichord and a sweetly lilting nursery rhyme rhythm. The ghost of Prokofiev's "Troika" which hangs around the melody only adds to the experience. It is "Sur la Place" which dominates, however. Recorded at one of his first ever sessions with orchestra leader Francois Rauber, with whom Brel would continue to work for the remainder of his career, the song rides an arrangement which wouldn't be out of place punctuating a gentle ghost story, while Brel's talent for conjuring the spirits of nostalgia and sadness from the passing of time is revealed with a perceptiveness almost unbecoming in a mere 25-year-old. Even compared with all that he would go on to create, Jacques Brel et Ses Chansons is no formative, tentative debut offering. Brel sprang into the public consciousness fully formed, with all his gifts and offerings already on public display. All he needed now was for the public to turn and look. Upon release, the album sold a little over 2,000 copies.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson