BRIGITTE FONTAINE – L’Un N’Empeche Pas L’Autre ( Polydor/Universal 2011 )

Brigitte Fontaine

This is the 17th album by the wonderfully insane old crone of avante garde, variété Française, chanson and unclassifiable whatnot ( I simply have her listed in my itunes as “Weirdo” along with Laurie Anderson, Scott Walker and Klaus Nomi ). Brigitte Fontaine has always radiated an undeniable charisma and durability and when I see interview footage of her growling and rambling like a bag lady, I have to remind myself that this was the same person who sounded so innocent and angelic on COMME À LA RADIO, the masterpiece she recorded with the Art Ensemble Of Chicago in 1971. If a connection like that wasn’t enough to make her hip forever, even in the event of a descent into bilge ( which never happened ), her roster of collaborations and admirers is pretty staggering. The fact that she went off the radar during the 1980’s no doubt has much to do with the preservation of her creative oeuvre.

L’UN N’EMPECHE PAS L’AUTRE ( roughly translated as “one does not preclude the other” ) is as good as anything from her catalogue going back to the excellent GENRE HUMAIN in 1995. An overview in the context of her entire catalogue would make my brain melt so I won’t be attempting that any time soon. This is very much an album of duets, mostly with long term collaborators, along with retreads and a few new tracks. Everything kicks off with the promotional single Dancefloor, yet another collaboration with Grace Jones. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like a Grace Jones track as does La Caravane later in the album, but if that’s a bit too euro-disco for some ears ( and I did momentarily fear this was going to be a limp disco album ), what’s always been magnificent about Brigitte Fontaine soon splays it’s plumage through Supermarket, Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, Gilles de la tourette and a host of other gems featuring the likes of French pop fossil Christophe ( Mr “Oh!.. Mon Amour” ), Arno and Jacques Higelin and the not so ancient Mathieu Chedid and Emmanuelle Seigner ( the girl from Polanski’s FRANTIC ). Some of the retreatments of old tracks are pretty remarkable too – the innocent and flowery Je Suis Inadaptie from 1968 is masticated and regurgitated as Inadaptee, a barrage of sub-pop guitar noise in an abrasive duet with Arno. And of course it wouldn’t be a Brigitte Fontaine record at all without the presence of Areski Belkacem, her consistent musical sidekick since 1969. Their sparse duet on Le Grand-Pere closes the album and is a somewhat nostalgic reference to the bizarre VOUS ET NOUS album from 1977.

It’s a more downbeat affair that the guitar heavy PROHIBITION (‘09) or the electro driven GENRE HUMAIN (’95) but no less powerful for it. What’s contained here is everything Nico should have been, everything Marianne Faithfull wanted to be and everything Nina Hagen sometimes succeeds in being, but Brigitte Fontaine pretty much owns this musical territory. At a sprightly 72 and with all her female contemporaries either long dead or frazzled from drug abuse, she is an irrepressible presence that remains fresh and will probably be there croaking to the cockroaches when the rest of us are long vapourised!! – BOZ

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