Vanessa Paradis

M & J

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Vanessa Paradis' pleasantly understated 1987 debut propelled the then 16 year old into modeling, acting, and further singing when the single "Joe Le Taxi" became an unlikely international hit. She would go on to become a French national treasure, date Johnny Depp, and be Lenny Kravitz' 1970s AM radio muse on a memorable English-language effort. But disregarding all of that, M & J is a remarkably solid album, driven steadily along by lite-pop arrangements and Paradis' disarming vocals. She's not an accomplished singer; at the same time, her wispy, girlish voice nestles perfectly into the album's clutch of head-nodding numbers. "Maxou"'s simply sunny piano flirts with a wide-eyed, almost naïve vocal; it's easy to imagine a black-and-white, silent movie sequence where the beguiling Vanessa is pursued through the streets of Paris by a luckless suitor. Paradis sashays her way across "Mosquito"'s slight new wave groove and sells the Latin cabaret feel of "Marilyn & John" with aplomb. But it's the wistful "Joe Let Taxi" where she really shines, since the track's sax-laced slow burn is the perfect foil for her fetching delivery. Remember in Tom & Jerry when Tom floats on the intoxicating drift of his true love's perfume? That's what this entire album makes you feel like.

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