Various Artists – Brel Next

The monumental songwriting prowess of Jacques Brel has traditionally been far too clever for the non-French-speaking masses to care. Even in English. According to the sophisticated French-speaking masses, the translations are a travesty. Not always so. In the devoted, talented hands of Elvis lyricist Mort Shuman, adaptor of the bulk of the songs on this compilation, they pack a heavyweight lyrical punch rarely experienced in the comparatively feeble 'rock' lexicon.

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The monumental songwriting prowess of Jacques Brel has traditionally been far too clever for the non-French-speaking masses to care. Even in English. According to the sophisticated French-speaking masses, the translations are a travesty. Not always so. In the devoted, talented hands of Elvis lyricist Mort Shuman, adaptor of the bulk of the songs on this compilation, they pack a heavyweight lyrical punch rarely experienced in the comparatively feeble ‘rock’ lexicon. Though Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun” was hands-down the best pop record of the spring of ’74, it could have been better still had its translator, the ludicrous Mc-Poet Rod McKuen, had any inkling of the true dark intent of Brel’s original, “Le Moribond”. But then maybe “We had joy, we had fun” was the only line a snogger needed on Blackpool Pier 30 years ago.

Interpretive moths transfixed by Brel’s fiery inferno have included the sublime and the ridiculous. Scott Walker, represented here twice, sang Brel so knowingly that he might have been his beautiful blonde emotional doppelganger, while Nina Simone’s loony-bin escapee routine on “The Desperate Ones” is pure farce. David Bowie expertly transforms the tough drunken sailor narrator of “Amsterdam” into a sensitive, amphetamine-skinny cabin boy, while on “Next” Alex Harvey’s tipsy vicar is too loud.

Triumphantly, an impudent newcomer takes first prize. Emiliana Torrini’s fragile vocal, inside her brilliant, defiantly modern samples-and-beats arrangement of “If You Go Away”, definitively demonstrates that Brel’s legacy is truly timeless. A solid introduction; here, even the ridiculous entertains.

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