Eddy Mitchell: Grand Ecran


Like Johnny Hallyday, Dick Rivers and Sylvie Vartan, Eddy Mitchell is another venerable Gallic superstar who has made few waves outside the hexagon. Like Hallyday and Rivers, his music has always drawn on the inspirations of American rock ‘n’ roll, soul and R&B. And, like those others, the man formerly known as Claude Moine came to prominence in the very early 60s as a home-grown French rock ‘n’ roller. His band Les Chausettes Noires were as popular as Hallyday and Rivers’ Les Chats Sauvage. Throughout his career he’s recorded in the States and the UK with some of the best musicians in the world: his 60s records with The London All Stars feature session legends Big Jim Sullivan and Bobby Graham, as well as a young Jimmy Page. He’s acted in film and hosted TV shows. But, despite it all, he's never made the international leap.
France accepts his status and ‘Grand Ecran’ ('Big Screen' – the album is his reinterpretation of film songs) has been another smash at the other end of the tunnel. It trails his October-December 2010 French tour which is billed as “ma dernière séance.” At the age of 68 he’ll be seen live for the last time. The tour will be a significant cultural event – just as Hallyday’s 2009 farewell tour was – and no doubt there will be more releases in the lead up to it.
But, like Sylvie Vartan’s recent ,Toutes Peines Confondues’ album, ‘Grand Ecran’ is a difficult listen for a non-French person who hasn’t grown up with Mitchell. His voice is care-worn, often guttural, the sound of resignation and years of cigarette and whisky abuse. As that implies, it’s a pretty inflexible tool. After opening with a trudge through “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, the pace picks up with a perky “Rain Drops Keep falling On My Head”. Perky musically that is – Mitchell does little more than recite the lyrics in tune. Imagine a thoroughly French-accented Lou Reed giving some light pop a go. Weirder still is ‘Everybody’s Talkin’, with a backing that mimics Harry Nilsson’s – then ol’ Eddy comes in, all growly and lugubrious. A straight swing take on ‘April in Paris’ works better as the vocalising sits more comfortably with the non-rock, big-band orchestration. ‘Over the Rainbow’ has a subtle, Bossa Nova-inflected acoustic guitar setting and strings that work well with guest vocalist Melody Gardot, but Mitchell’s more muted singing draws even more attention to his palpable stiffness. There’s no doubt that ‘Grand Ecran’ is music to many a French person’s ears, but it would take much more than this to convert anyone else to the cause.

© Kieron Tyler