La Grande Sophie: La Place Du Fantôme
La Grande Sophie - Sophie Huriaux – might not be instantly familiar, but her songwriting has attracted the attention of household names in her native France. Françoise Hardy recorded her ‘Mister’ on the 2010 album La Pluie Sans Parapluie. Her ‘Personne’ was a highlight of Sylvie Vartan’s Soleil Bleu album the same year. La Grande Sophie’s last album, 2009’s Des vagues et des ruisseaux was awarded the Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros.
Yet, still, little attention outside France. Which is a pity as Des vagues et des ruisseaux was great: distinctly French and rooted in chanson, both melodically and lyrically – extremely classy varieté. Modern Gallic pop. A pop that could appeal anywhere. La place du fantôme is even better.
It’s La Grande Sophie’s sixth album. The first was 1997’s La Grande Sophie s'agrandit. As the releases rack up she’s evolved from a new wave-leaning stance with a fondness for forefronting the guitar, to colouring her music with a broader, locally-inflected palette. On stage, she’s been accompanied by cello and trumpet as well as more rocky instrumentation. She's paid tribute Barbara and Nino Ferrer live, but has also declared a fondness for Lee Hazlewood.
La place du fantôme certainty synthesises all this but, more strikingly, it takes La Grande Sophie somewhere else. The album opens with ‘Bye bye etc’ and its hard, stomping synth line. Using a glam rock beat to underpin a minor-key melody is a statement of intent. La place du fantôme is meant to be noticed. What follows – ‘Peut-etre jamais’, ‘Ne m’oublie pas’ and ‘Sucre les fraises’ – are beautiful, rhythmic, yearning pop songs, each with minor melodies counterpointing lyrics conjuring paper handkerchiefs, waiting, other times, other lives, lives lived in books. ‘Ne m’oublie pas’ is what you’d hope French radio would be crammed with. Although pin sharp, ‘Tu fais ton age’ is a ballad with an unexpected break that could hit home in any era. ‘Quand on parle de toi’, which shuffles its way semi-rapwards, is a misstep though. Even so, La place du fantôme is an essential album
Last year was great for modern Gallic pop, with superb albums from Bertrand Belin, Alex Beaupain, Daphné and (especially) L. La place du fantôme sets this year’s bar exceptionally high.