L: Initiale

Released this week in France, the debut album from Raphaële Lannadère – who trades musically as L is a statement of what French music can be when it draws on local traditions and influences, pulling it into the now. This is not nouvelle chanson, but the presence of Babx as producer, some-time arranger and one-off co-writer (with Lannadère) nods towards where Intitiale is coming from. 

I first came across L at last year’s Francofolies in La Rochelle. Previous to that, in 2008, she had issued an EP. The three years between releases shows the care taken by Lannadère. The show I saw was a little tentative, theatrical and mannered, but about the songs, their mood and lyrics. There were hints of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, which have been borne out by Intitiale’s dissections of the underbelly and underworld. Lannadère herself is grounded in Ferré and Barbara. Brigitte Fontaine has praised her. One of her songs was covered by Nouvelle Star’s Camélia Jordana. All suggesting that Initiale should at least be of interest, and that it could even more than that. 

Lyrically, although Lannadère pares things down – short lines, short phrases, short clauses – this is literate album. Allusion and metaphor are important, so is a self examination and comparison. But this isn’t poetry, more the reflection of a lyrical tradition. On 'Jalouse' she sings “cet oiseau de passage, qui chante et qui est sourd, et vient les soirs d’orage, pour te parler d’amour”. Lannadère looks to the classic. The seamy is romanticised. 'Château Rouge' conjures “Le rêve des dealers de banlieue”. 'Romance Et Serie Noire' has its “pin-ups de Pigalle” and “baisers rouges whisky”. 

But Initiale is not an anachronism. From the moment the rolling keyboards and strings of opening cut 'Mes Lèvres' kick in it’s impossible not to be swept along. Her voice is conversational yet melodic, delivering her lyrics in a stream that’s unceasing in its need to express. 'Jalouse' has slight jazz touches, but, again, that lyrical rush. And an amazing rising-falling melody too. The sparse, intimate 'Mon Frère' is simply affecting. The title track is the album’s core, a swelling and surging ballad with subtle jarring jazz touches, evocative strings and stabbing guitar. 

Initiale is terrifically French. It’s impossible to guess how it will go down in France. It feels important though.

© Kieron Tyler