Patricia Kaas

Sexe Fort [France]

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On her seventh outing, France's reigning chanteuse -- though she now resides in Switzerland -- Patricia Kaas returns to singing in her native language with a seemingly startling new direction: rock. Sexe Fort ("the Stronger Sex") is a collection rock-flavored pop tunes drenched in electric guitars that are squarely aimed at the European charts. Kaas as a tough woman of rock is a sharp contrast to the chanson of the Piano Bar, her last outing, or her songs on the soundtrack to And Now Ladies And Gentlemen, in which she co-starred with Jeremy Irons. But Sexe Fort is not so much an about face as a gentle slap in the face. The opener, "Ou Sont les Lommes" (Where Are the Men") is also the album's first single. And it is not an electric six-string one hears, but a keyboard and a drum machine, slipping already into the realm of slick adult alternative Europop. But make no mistake; the drama inherent in the provocative cut by Léa Ivanne (and the only thing here written by a woman) is pure rock hegemony. The growl in La Kaas' voice is as tough as Pat Benatar's. Pierre-Yves Lebert's and Pascal Obispo's sentimentally charged "L'Abbe Caillou" -- an homage to France's L'Abbe Pierre -- sounds like a French version of Sinéad O'Connor's read of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," and is stunningly effective -- particularly if you cannot understand the lyrics and only feel the grain in the singer's voice. Elsewhere, contributions from France's big-time songwriters, such as Francis Cabrel, F. Bernheim, Jean-Jacques Goldman, and Etienne Roda-Gil, assure the listener that the material encountered here will measure up to the singer's truly amazing gift. The toughness in "Je ne Veaux Plus le Pardonner" ("I Cannot Forgive You Anymore") by David Manet and Salvatore Campanile is pure pathos and swagger fueled by acoustic guitars, slithering electrics, and insistently strummed acoustic guitars. The singer's voice takes the lyric and wraps herself around it, uttering heartbreak and determination in the same breath, evidencing the transcendence of the "stronger sex." Likewise, "La Nuit Est Mauve" (The Night Is Mauve") by Renaud and F. Bernheim is a love song that meditates on a sleeping lover and the need to wrap him in a pink kiss. But there are headier topics here, such as the mournful loss in "J'en Tremblerai Encore" ("I Still Tremble About It"), and "II a Blessure" ("My Wound"), about the deaths of her brother and mother, respectively. Certainly Sexe Fort is a slick, glossy recording with the dominating production of Frederic Helbert raining down all around the singer. But she rises to meet the bombast, and reins it in to get these beautiful and moving songs across with the sheer force of her voice, which is, in essence, the power of nature itself. The set ends with the hidden track "Je Maudis" ("I Curse"), where she is accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and a National Steel guitar being played with a slide. And as it all winds down, the heartbreak, and the resignation that pain is at the heart of all transformation, whispers it to a close. While French lyrics may sound ridiculous when translated into English, they are nonetheless communicative of a deeper range of emotion. Kaas may be trying to reinvent herself here, but her gloriously impure instrument, which conveys the soul matters and the unspeakable truths of the chanson, translate very easily to pop and rock. This is a remarkable album in every respect.

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