Jacques Brel's final album, and his first after a decade-long retirement from active recording, was France's state secret of the year. Review copies were dispatched to even the most prestigious publications securely sealed in padlocked boxes, whose combinations would not be revealed until the release date; rumor and mystery haunted the issue. Brel himself, stricken with the cancer which would kill him within a year, was an invisible recluse. If you're looking for any one reason to purchase this album, it is the fact that, even after all that hype, Brel did not disappoint. It is primarily a balladic collection (of course), highlighted by the somber "Jo Jo," dedicated to Brel's recently deceased close friend and confidante, Georges "Jo Jo" Pasquier, and "Les Marquises," for the South Pacific islands which were the singer's home. But Brel also included the bizarre "Le Lion," with its near-orgasmic female cries of "Jacques, Jacques" (Donna Summer, eat your heart out); and "Les F...," in which Brel and longtime arranger Francois Rauber glance over to the disco boom which was then sweeping Europe, and offer their own variations on the mirrorball beat. Both cuts seem somewhat at odds with the popular vision of Brel's music, but absorbed within its entirety, they make perfect -- and potent -- sense. Of the songs to have moved into the English language, the faintly macabre "La Ville S'Endormait" appeared -- under the title "The Town Fell Asleep" -- on Marc Almond's Jacques album. Similarly effective is Momus' take on "Voir un Ami Pleurir" (as "See a Friend in Tears," on his Nicky EP). In both instances, however, the English lyric simply acquaints the non-French speaker with the actual words of the song. Brel's own delivery is all that is required to comprehend the mood and the intent. ~ Dave Thompson, Rovi

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