Brigitte Fontaine: L’Un N’Empêche Pas L’Autre

The duet album is firmly embedded in the career paths of French singers who’ve been at it a while. We’ve had them in the past few years from Johnny Hallyday, Eddy Mitchell and Hugues Aufray. So now, here's full-time maverick Brigitte Fontaine with that most maverick thing, her own duet album.
It follows 2009’s Prohibition, which itself sported duets with Philippe Katerine and Grace Jones. Jones cropped up as she was another client of British producer Ivor Guest. Our Seb Rochford contributed drums/percussion to that spiky and angry set. Guest – also a soundtrack composer - produces L’Un N’Empêche Pas L’Autre, and both Jones and Rochford also appear, making L’Un N’Empêche Pas L’Autre a follow-on from Prohibition. It’s not a follow up that begs to be heard. It’s not going to figure high up in the Fontaine canon.
“Dance floor, je t’adore” intones Fontaine clunkily on the 80s-style opening cut 'Dancefloor', which has chunks of David Bowie 'Fashion' guitar and some talk-vocals from Grace Jones that sound as if they’ve been flown in after the fact. Indeed, the credits reveal that Jones’ contributions were recorded at a different studio from the main body of the album, as were Arno and Mathieu Chedid’s (M) contributions. At first, Arno’s growl on 'Supermarket' sounds like Fontaine herself taking her voice down a few registers, so at least that’s reasonably of a piece with itself. But the Jones/Fontaine version of Duke Ellington’s 'Caravan' is murder on the ears.
'Rue Saint-Louis-En-L’Ile', a duet with Alain Souchon, is more successful, a tribute to the street where Fontaine resides. There’s a genuine dynamic between the two singers on this Astor Piazolla-composed melody. But there are more clunky lyrics that take a dig at the tourists that clog up the Seine island: “US go home, bovins ventru, SS go home”. Fontaine is not on top writing form. The US is a preoccupation – the duet with Christophe is titled 'Hollywood' and takes in the search for a golden door, Hollywood as an oversize Christmas tree, giant-screen TVs and alcoholic Barbie dolls. More successful is 'Duel', an epic duet with old foil Jacques Higelin.
She's also reunited with old arranger Jean-Claude Vannier on 'Inadaptée', a duet with Arno. But this guitar-filled semi-grunge lump is befuddling. Bad too. Most bizarre is 'Dressing', another 80s-style dance romp sung with Emmanuelle Seigner.
The best cut is the album's closer, a vocal-only duet with permanent musical collaborator Areski (he wrote the music for eight of the 13 cuts here) that harks back to their early 70s work.
Little gels on L’Un N’Empêche Pas L’Autre. Tracks work against each other. Elements within individual tracks work against themselves. L’Un N’Empêche Pas L’Autre is impossible to listen to as an album.
© Kieron Tyler