A goldsmith of song, Francis Cabrel has been sculpting the soundtrack of much of the French-speaking world for 40 years now. With wooden clogs, rolled mustache, big breezy sleeves, and Southern accent, he already embodied the patchoulied troubadour of yesteryear, rampant amid the urban forests of radio antennas. We remember his many classics such as “Petite Marie”, “Les Murs de poussière”, and above all, “Je l’aime à mourir”, all released in the late 1970s. Then, with this success, he was soon circumscribed by an industry that polished and updated both his physical and musical aesthetics (Sarbacane). But all with elegance, as Brel would say. And Cabrel became over time one of the icons of French entertainment.
On this new album, composed of 13 tracks like the previous one, Cabrel somehow reconnects with the troubadour he used to be while preserving, here and there, pronounced concessions to the FM waves. One thinks here of the very ’80-’90s choruses, rather reminiscent of Leonard Cohen (“Fort Alamour”, “Peuple des fontaines”). But, little by little, the listener’s smirk is accompanied by a snap of fingers that keeps the beat, as with the hit “Te ressembler”, a lively letter to his father, a hard-working immigrant to whom he never knew how to say “I love you”. Or the very beautiful “Rockstars du Moyen-Âge”, on which Cabrel openly doffs his cap to his troubadour predecessors and goes with a chorus in Occitan, their preferred language. Or yet another missive, a declaration of friendship, addressed to Dutronc, on “Chanson pour Jacques”. If certain songs could be quickly forgotten, like his eco-manifesto “Jusqu’aux pôles” or the aforementioned ode to Dutronc, others could well slip into our daily lives, like “Les bougies fondues” or the catchy “J’écoutais Sweet Baby Jane”.
With his voice wrapped in velvet strings, brightened up with trumpet, powdered with soul and blues, Cabrel offers, overall, a damn fine album. But what’s most striking is that this fan of Dylan and Barbara, whom he also evokes, remains ever more touching when he becomes folky and nostalgic again, as in the catchy and lucidly poetic “Les Bougies fondues”, where he laments a veiled girl’s loss of childhood. Some flowers have thorns, after all..