So Frenchy So Chic 2011

Back in the ‘70s when rock was still a religion and New Musical Express ruled the magazine stands (even if it was three months’ old by the time it got down to the colonies) there was a lot of anti-French propaganda oozing off its pages. The cliché was that French music sucks, because it doesn’t rock.
In a sense, they had a point. Apart from a few retro rock-a-boogie bands, and some art prog collectives, Frances appeared to be fairly devoid of rock’n’roll.
But what those trend-spotting London pundits utterly missed was that France had a pop scene par excellence. By American and English standards, the productions were tame, but burrow through the slick performances and orchestras and there was a strand of style and quality that put the Brits to shame. The best French pop was effortlessly sensual (and sometimes outrageously sexual), and it often came with lyrics that were uncommonly intellectual for a popular art form.
By the ‘90s, those characteristics had started to seep into international pop culture, and the very unsexy aesthetics of staunch rock’n’roll religiosity had started to wither on a rather gnarled old vine. Thank God for that.
Fast forward to 2011, and you get handsomely packaged two-disc compilations like So Frenchy So Chic, which advertises itself as “The unofficial soundtrack to the 2011 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival.” Pity that, by the time I had bent my ears to the music, the film festival had flickered its last frame. Nevermind.
This volume of So Frenchy So Chic contains 29 songs that may have been selected randomly, or at the very least arbitrarily; so wide is their stylistic orbit that I couldn’t help wonder what the mandate was. Perhaps they have access to certain record labels?
Whatever, I can report that there is a strong hit-rate. That is, the quality is generally very good, that it makes for pleasant dinner-time background while not succumbing to ambient vacuity.
The best tracks include Cecile Hercule’s very sexy ‘Roger’ with its quaint, Theremin-like sound effect; Delphine Volange’s ‘Sirenes’ with its plaintive vocal, and playground organ and whistling giving it a lovely flavour; and Syd Matters’ ‘Hi Life’ with its intense musicality and melancholy folksiness.
There are a few well-known names, like Yael Naim, Keren Ann, Melanie Pain, Nouvelle Vague and even Serge Gainsbourg (via someone else’s versioning of his ‘Le Poinconneur des Lisas’.
Thankfully, the worst tracks (by Robin Ledue, Katerine, Disiz peter Punk) aren’t so bad that they ruin the tone, and if there’s a musical theme, it’s a light-footed jauntiness that almost sounds as though it’s had an infusion of Pacific in its cocktail of influences. GARY STEEL
MUSIC = 3.5
SOUND = 3.5

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