Alain Souchon

Ecoutez d'Où Ma Peine Vient

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French singer/songwriter and icon Alain Souchon returns with Ecoutez d'Ou Ma Peine Vient, his first album in four years. While hardly prolific, Souchon -- who is revered in France -- makes up for it with his usual consistency. There is nothing in this album that Souchon fans have not heard before, but plenty that they will love to hear again. First and foremost is, of course, Souchon's trademark lightness of touch which dominates every lyric and music. Hints of folk music, music hall, or some faux ethnic touches serve as a discreet background for a new batch of musings on life as it is and as it was. Nostalgia is a key element of Souchon's work, here saluting wagon-lit trains, the Morocco of his childhood (a duet in French and Arabic with "Hindi Zahra"), or simply the sense of life passing through the character of a sentient 64-year-old man. Souchon is equally seen on pointing out that he is also in synch with the times, both with his choice of vocabulary and with a series of sympathetic portraits of the exclus, those living on the margins of contemporary French society, mostly of immigrant origins. His lyrics on the subject, however, sound a bit naive, compared with either his ironic take on the French new bourgeoisie, or his bittersweet melancholy when dealing with more personal issues, as in the tender title track. A true French intellectual (songs include a poem by Louis Aragon set to music, and a tribute to the novels of Françoise Sagan), Souchon's songs always reveal his effort to be, above all, intelligent rather than passionate, and his penchant for witty wordplay. To balance things out, his fragile voice adds a delicate, emotional edge to lyrics that on their own may come off as a bit strained. Longtime collaborator Laurent Voulzy joins only for one track, the rather disappointing "Popopo," while David McNeil and the singer's son, Pierre Souchon, co-wrote a few of the songs. Other than that, Ecoutez d'Ou Ma Peine Vient is, in every sense, 100-percent an Alain Souchon album. The standout here: the prescient "Parachute Doré," a satirical calypso about a financial executive who flees to the Caribbean to live in luxury after the national economy collapsed -- written about a year before such stuff became reality.

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