Emmanuelle Seigner: Dingue

 Actress Emmanuelle Seigner has had a lowish-profile musical side line. After appearing in the 2002 video for Death In Vegas’ ‘Hands Around My Throat’, she fronted the vaguely shoegazey Ultra Orange, with whom she released ‘Ultra Orange and Emmanuelle’ in 2007. That sole album dovetailed with her life: the track ‘Rosemary’s Lullaby’ borrowed the theme from Rosemary’s Baby, a film directed by her husband Roman Polanski. Another track was co-opted for the soundtrack of the 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, in which she appeared. 

It’s no surprise that Seigner has now issued a solo album proper. Pierre Emery and Gil Lesage from Ultra Orange have been elbowed in favour of a more intriguing collaborator, Keren Ann. Of course, the French singing actress tradition is long and proud. Some chose to determine their own style and write their own music (Jeanne Moreau, Julie Delpy, Sandrine Kiberlaine), others embraced a collaborator (Brigitte Bardot, honorary French woman Jane Birkin, Isabelle Adjani, Catherine Deneuve). Arielle Dombasle sits somewhere between. Firmly an embracer, Seigner has done what seems to be a first in choosing a female helmsperson. Mylène Farmer might have been behind a bunch of Alizée records, but right now no other female-steered singing actress springs to mind.
Keren Ann’s earliest recordings had Benjamin Biolay behind them. Switching to the boss role was probably predictable, despite her recent releases as Lady & Bird with Iceland’s Barði Jóhannsson. She’s previously written for Henri Salvador (with Benjamin Biolay) and with Guy Chambers. But she isn’t entirely on her own here: the music and lyrics are co-written with Doriand (Laurent Lescarret). They also share the production credit. He sings and whistles on four of ‘Dingue’s cuts, but only Keren Ann contributes instruments. She produced his 2006 album ‘Le Grand Bain’. Hers must be considered the upper hand here.
All this raises the question – is ‘Dingue’ ('Crazy') an Emmanuelle Seigner album?
It is.
The chugging guitar-driven title track opens ‘Dingue’. Subtle strings weave in and out as the song builds, capped by Seigner’s half-whispered vocal. ‘Le Fantôme’ bows in with the keyboard refrain from Sucide’s ‘Cheree’ and seems to be close in spirit to early Spiritualized – but that’s a feint and it opens up as a beautifully reflective and twinkly, string-embellished ballad. It’s a mix which defines the album: mid to uptempo guitar-driven toe tappers mixed with baroque-leaning ballads. Self-referential, but not irritating, the song ‘Emmanuelle’ casts her as having the name of dog. Pretty apt considering Iggy Pop lends some gentle French-language groaning to ‘La Dernière Pluie’. More groaning comes from Mr Seigner, Roman Polanski, who speaks some lines on ‘Qui Etes-Vous?’ – although by this point he probably knows who she is and might just be able to address her as “toi”.
Charming, with a unified sound, ‘Dingue’ is lovely. But it’s impossible to escape thoughts of its context.
Keren Ann has begun working on Sylvie Vartan’s next album. Based on ‘Dingue’, how can it not be great?
© Kieron Tyler