By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The title of Carla Bruni's new album, "Comme Si de Rien N'Etait," translates to "As if Nothing Happened," which suggests that the foxy French-Italian model-turned-singer has at least some semblance of a sense of humor.
Much, of course, has happened in her world in the past year, as Bruni in February became Bruni- Sarkozy, the third wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and, thus, the first lady of France after a heated romance that had the country all atwitter.
"Comme Si de Rien N'Etait" may or may not be a musical documentation of their relationship: Bruni says she wrote most of the album's originals before she hooked up with Sarkozy, yet the material generally describes a woman who is totally in the tank for a guy whose love is the world's most powerful narcotic.
Indeed, in "Tu Es Ma Came" ("You Are My Drug"), a sexy, swinging song that rides a bluesy acoustic guitar lick and a loping upright bass line, Bruni notes, in French, that Sarkozy -- er, the song's unnamed lover man -- is "my drug/More deadly than Afghan heroin/More dangerous than Colombian white." (The lyrics led to a minor international incident when the Colombian foreign minister said he found the line offensive.)
In the frisky "Ta Tienne" ("Yours"), Bruni declares an end to her promiscuous ways, singing instead of monogamous devotion: "I who always sought fire/I am burning for you like a pagan woman/I who made men dance/To you I give myself entirely." In the sweetly infectious "L'Amoureuse," in which a string quartet gives way to a rhythmic acoustic guitar line, she is simply a "Woman in Love."
Bruni, who wrote most of the album's 14 songs, doesn't really expect us to think that she's singing about somebody other than her personal prime minister, does she? "You Belong to Me" -- a spare, swaying version of the much-covered 1950s song, sung (somewhat awkwardly) in English -- even sounds like a direct nod to her late 2007 visit with Sarkozy to Egypt, what with its reference to "the pyramids along the Nile."
If this album isn't actually about him, then Sarkozy might want to order a government investigation into the identity of his wife's muse, the one she calls "my Lord . . . my orgy." He's the same guy who has somehow managed to tame the free-spirited girl of the alluring ballad "Je Suis une Enfant" ("I Am a Child"), who sings of "40 years and 30 lovers."
Off with his head!
Then again: The penultimate song is "Notre Grand Amour Est Mort" ("Our Great Love Is Dead"), a blues-kissed pop-rock number with the sort of melody and production values that would sound right at home on a John Mayer album, if Mayer were a bereft French-speaking woman who catwalked away from the fashion world at the height of her career to make music.
Before marrying Sarkozy, Bruni was better known for baring her legs and backside in photos and on the runway than she was for baring her soul in song -- at least stateside. But "Comme Si de Rien N'Etait" is her third album, following 2002's "Quelqu'un M'a Dit" ("Someone Told Me"), a folksy collection of Serge Gainsbourg-style songs that caused a sensation in France, and last year's vastly less successful "No Promises," on which Bruni recast a series of old English-language poems as songs.
Central to the appeal of "Comme Si de Rien N'Etait" is Bruni's voice, a husky, sensuous purr that drips with intrigue and just the right amount of vulnerability. She's not a powerhouse singer by any stretch, but she doesn't need to be, as her breathy voice suits her lithe songs just fine, lending them an appealing intimacy. The gentle instrumentation (woodwinds, mandolin, acoustic guitars, strings, brushed drums, upright bass) frames her singing perfectly, even if the musical end result is occasionally anodyne.
Generally, Bruni's proffer is chic French pop, the sort of music that one might want to hear while sipping espresso out front of Le Deauville while all of Paris passes by.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Tu Es Ma Came," "Je Suis Une Enfant," "L'Amoureuse"