Johnny Hallyday: Jamais Seul
Fifty-two years – to this month – after his first release, Johnny Hallyday doesn’t need to do much more than remain in a holding pattern. He played what he said was his farewell tour in 2009, but that was curtailed when complications in surgery later that year led to him being put into a medically induced coma.
Now, here he is in 2012 with sell-out dates scheduled for the Stade de France, shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall – his tardy British live debut – and new album Jamais Seul, issued in the UK. He’s 68.
Jamais Seul brings no surprises. It’s meat-and-potatoes rock created by -M-, who plays on it, co-writes every song and produces the album. This Countess Bathory style co-opting of more youthful musicians is endemic in France. Keren Ann has done it for Sylvie Vartan, Benjamin Biolay for Françoise Hardy, Etienne Daho for Jeanne Moreau. -M- is a dab hand at reconfiguring his muse for others, as shown by his steering of Vanessa Paradis.
Much that’s familiar is strewn through the desert-scorched Jamais Seul. The White Stripes, Pearl Jam and Jane’s Addiction are never far. Neither are Golden Earring, whose 'Radar Love' informs 'Tanagra'. 'Vous N’Aurez Pas Ma Peau' casts Hallyday as Mark Lanegan, which makes sense considering the broken glass and dust their voices share. 'Paul and Mick' – not Simonon and Jones of The Clash but the Fab’s pair – echoes 'Pinball Wizard'. Its lyrics sport the clunky pun 'C’est entre Paul et Mick, Y’a pas de polemique'. 'Guitar Hero' is an clumping homage to Jimi Hendrix, who Hallyday had a very early hand in propagating. His duet with -M- on 'England' shows them as a bad fit vocally. Iconographic references and -M- aside, this remains recognisably Hallyday’s album. Cast in broad strokes and lumbering, its has little space for subtlety, although the bubbling 'J’Inspire' stands out with its relative restraint.
Light, shade or tonal differences are in short supply. Necessarily, as his default delivery is a bull-like roar. Toning down for the Bo Diddley beat-suffused 'Elle A Mis De L’Eau', he reveals a tremulousness that doesn't carry the song. Pictured in the booklet with an acoustic guitar, Hallyday doesn’t play on the album at all – the reining in that would come from an acoustic is largely absent. But when it’s gotten out, for the Stones-isms of the 'Moonlight Mile'-ish “Ces Deux-La”, it brings some peace. Overall, there’s no good, no bad. Jamais Seul just is. Holding pattern you see.