Arnaud Fleurent-Didier: La Reproduction
This terrific album is what popular French music ought to be: all in French, with songwriting drawing on that classic romantic arc and local influences (mostly pop, but a bit of chanson seeps through). Best of all, there’s no attempt to ape UK or US indie tropes.
‘La Reproduction’ is M Fleurent-Didier's fourth album, his first for a major label. The first was issued in 1999 but in Japan only. His second album was recorded en duo with Ema Derton (a nom du disque for him and girlfriend Emilie Renaudat). He’s also recorded as Notre Dame. Until the release of ‘La Reproduction’ – it was issued in France on 4 January 2010 – his profile seems to have been pretty low. A track on a comp on Air’s label in 2002 didn’t do much to raise it, but he did play dates supporting them in France earlier this year. Although his live band only consists of him at a keyboard and a female bassist and female keyboard player, ‘La Reproduction’ is a thing of lush wonder.
French reviews have bandied names like Michel Polnareff and Benjamin Biolay around and the press release name checks Gainsbourg, Brel and Ferré. The latter two make no sense musically, but ‘La Reproduction’is hugely wordy (like a Biolay album) and there is an inevitable comparison with the Gainsbourg of ‘Initials BB’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ but the past music that Paris-born Fleurent-Didier most evokes is the baroque pair of late 60s/early 70s peculiarities Gerard Manset and William Sheller (before either mainstreamed).
Opening cut ‘France Culture’ is a mesmerising mélange of Air-ish burbling, shifting strings and undulating texture (the ‘Initials BB’ influence) over which Fleurent-Didier reflects on his parents, reciting a list of cultural signposts and mores from his formative years. He seems to castigating them for what was missing. It’s the best – most arresting – opening cut to an album so far this year. ‘L’Origine Du Monde’ continues the sombre mood, with a beautifully distant string arrangement that underpins a piano-led performance that appears to reference Gainsbourg (Verneuil – as in Rue de – crops up in the lyrics). ‘Imbécile Heureux’ is equally sensitive: imagine early Tahiti 80 with the orchestral sensibility and baroque leanings of Michel Polnareff. Whatever the references, the voice here is singular – Fleurent-Didier is rooted in a tradition and unafraid of revealing it.
‘Mémé 68’ – a look back at his parents in the context of Mai 68 – is another of these striking gems, shifting between acoustic introspection, string-driven grandeur and ba-ba vocals. ‘Pépé 44’ also amazes with its elegantly mournful melody and unforgettable piano refrain. The only misstep is a pretty useless pun as a song title – ‘My Space Oddity’ – but with an album this fabulous it hardly matters.
There’s been no shortage of praise for ‘La Reproduction’ in France and it’s no wonder. It’s probably as benchmark an album as Air’s ‘Moon Safari’, but being in French it may remain a local delicacy.
© Kieron Tyler