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August 18, 2008

Carla Bruni: First Lady of Chords

by John Oseid

You've read that French Première Dame Carla Bruni is a recording artist. And you likely know the ex-supermodel takes a lot of heat for her haughtiness and gets mocked for her narcissism. But guess what? Her new album Comme si de rien n'était is solid. This is no vanity project; you won't hear any cheesy celebrity faux-rapping or William Shatner-esque cover tunes here. Bruni is a strong guitar player and her smoky voice makes for an album of moody, classic sixties chansons.

For the composition to "Déranger les pierres" she turned, in fact, to the great chansonnier Julien Clerc. The rest of the album jumps styles very effectively, largely using American vernacular. "Le temps perdu" moves with a sort of tango-meets-swing rhythm. A mandolin appears on the bluegrass inflected "L'Antilope." When she compared the ecstasy of a lover to a line of cocaine in "Tu es ma came," she scandalized Anglo sensibilities. Never mind that; it's a cool jazzy blues tune.

Okay, there is some dross on the album. "Péché d'envie" sounds like warmed-over Kenny G.  The classic fifties cover song "You Belong to Me" doesn't quite work in her accented English and her vocals are reedy on the one Italian song "Il vecchio e il bambino." In an amusing, snarky piece the U.K's Independent calls her the First Lady of Schmaltz. While she's not breaking ground (nor claiming to), the Italian-born Bruni's lyrics are smart, and (for the most part) poetic. Basic French is enough to get the sense.

Since it's early-July release in Europe, Comme si de rien n'était has racked up brisk sales, though it's unlikely to reach the unexpected smash hit level of Bruni's first album, the 2003 Quelqu'un m'a dit. In the video above she performs a live version of "Raphaël," a buoyant homage to her ex-husband off the Quelqu'un album.

In the September Vanity Fair cover story, Maureen Orth details every twist and turn in the love lives of Bruni and her new husband Nicolas Sarkozy, "le Président Bling-Bling." Their mutual ambitions are endlessly entertaining; hers are proclaimed with a delicate, breathless purr.

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