Continuing the guestposts to commemorate Françoise Hardy’s 70th birthday, this Friday. Here’s fellow Dutch journalist Norbert Pek on his favourite Hardy-duet:
‘A few French lines on a Blur album: in 1994 it was quite a thing. More remarkable even then Jamaicans entering the Olympics with a bobsled. Exaggeration, you say? Let me take you back to the 1991-tour after the release of Blur’s mediocre debut album Leisure. At one point the band members all ended up with a black eye. Not because of some angry Oasis-fans (they didn’t exist at that time), but the band members themselves fought with each other out of pure frustration: they had the skills, but they didn’t have the noteworthy sound. The album, the tour: it was a failure. Now what to do? Singer Damon Albarn said he had a plan and the rest should trust him. He wrote a bunch of songs that were very, very British. The other members complained loudly, but played along. The album ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ (1993) was concepated. The songs were about life in England. Together with the selftitled Suede-debut, Modern Life…. was the starting point of a huge Britpop-revival.
Blur then started to work on on the album that would become a mega-success: Parklife. The songs were again about ordinary Engelish people living their ordinary lives. The most British Britpop was Blur’s golden ticket to success, their unique selling point, but this album featured, all of a sudden, some French lines. Cor blimey!
But it doesn’t sound like eating escargots in a hamburger joint. The French part fits like a glove in ‘To The End’. Because, like every Parklife-song, it’s very refined and well-crafted. And Damon Albarn had a stroke of genius when he decided that the song didn’t need some extra love, it needed l’amour.
Francoise Hardy is not singing the song on Parklife. The band asked Laetitia Sadier from the indieband Stereolab for the French part. It isn’t exactly singing. It’s more like answering in a most sensual way, while Albarn does all the vocal work. In 1995 the song was re-recorded: Francoise Hardy agreed to a duet. The English blokes knew it wasn’t just a simple re-take, so some big changes had to be made.
The result is impressive. The string section was changed, now it’s more theatrical. The main difference is the shift in lyrics. Albarn drops some of his own lines and lets Hardy sing her own French version. Thank Dieu, it’s not a simple translation, but the big words about love also work in French. Of course they do. But Francoise Hardy gives every word in ‘To The End (La Comedie)’ depth en sensuality. That’s what happens when you ask a living legend.
So Francoise: cheers. Now up to 80. I know you can make it to the end. Vraiment.