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Pop - Released October 28, 2002 | Parlophone France

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
While cynics have put Jane Birkin's motivations for this concert recording in question, their suspicions say more about them than about this music. Arabesque, which is finally available in America, is singer and actress Birkin's tribute to the music of the late Serge Gainsbourg, her mentor, late (and ex) husband, and producer. Recorded in March 2002 at the Olympia Theater in Paris, Arabesque puts the music of Gainsbourg, one of France's most unlikely and beloved national heroes, into an altogether different context: North African folk music as it meets new age exotica. And does it ever work. With a quintet of Arabic musicians backing her, Birkin uses her austere French to give new utterance and meaning to Gainsbourg's tunes, from the stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking read of "Elisa," which feels like the sunrise on a desert plain, to the forlorn, lilting violin of Djamel Ben Yelles over keyboards and hand percussion that poetically inform "L'Amour de Moi" as they entwine the duet vocals of Birkin and Memouen. "Couleur Café," a Gainsbourg classic, is decorated with Caribbean and Latin percussion, and Birkin's dry delivery is nonetheless full of off-color suggestive delight. "Valse de Melody" is full of arid and prayerful intonations by Memouen before Birkin enters to sing backup on this gorgeous song of desolation and mourning. Birkin's radical reworking of these songs would no doubt have pleased Gainsbourg, because she infuses them with the soul of an innocent who longs to be a rake, and one who understands implicitly their worth as both pop songs and works of erotic and necessary poetry. Her reading of "Amours des Feintes" is colored by an aching, long-suffering grace that voices its disbelief in the absence of the Beloved. As the set ends first with "Baby Alone in Babylone" (sic) and finally with the a cappella "La Javanaise," Birkin's transformation of Gainsbourg is complete; she has rendered his music universally communicable, accessible to any audience whether or not they speak French. It is the music of passion, of heartbreak, of loneliness, and of longing, and given the musical framework she has chosen, these songs come across as poetry that flows effortlessly from the font in the dark rivers of the heart. Arabesque is a sensual and musical triumph as well as an aesthetic treasure. Hopefully the album -- and the DVD which is also available -- will make Gainsbourg's music known by scores who would not otherwise have been blessed to encounter him. ~ Thom Jurek

Pop - Released March 24, 2017 | Parlophone France

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama

French Music - Released January 1, 2014 | Mercury

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama

French Music - Released January 1, 1969 | Mercury

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography

Pop - Released March 11, 2013 | Parlophone France


French Music - Released January 1, 2013 | Mercury


Pop - Released January 1, 2006 | Universal Music


Pop - Released June 11, 2004 | Parlophone France

Following on from the world music stylings of 2002's remarkable Arabesque album, but dispensing with that album's reliance on Serge Gainsbourg compositions, 2004's Rendez-Vous is Jane Birkin's most wide-open album in years, a joyous romp whose only downfall is, contrarily, the very factor that brought it so much attention. A collection of duets, Rendez-Vous pairs Birkin with singers as far-flung as Etienne Daho and Bryan Ferry, Françoise Hardy and Beth Gibbons, and the success rate is thrown as far across the spectrum as the guests. Alain Chamfort, for example, can add nothing to "T'As Pas le Droit d'Avoir Moins Mal Que Moi" simply because his vocal approach really isn't that different to Birkin's own, while Placebo frontman Brian Molko sounds more overwhelmed writing and singing for Birkin than he ever did alongside David Bowie. Plus, "Smile" really isn't a very good song. The triumphs, on the other hand, stand alongside (almost) any duet Birkin has recorded in the past. Her partnership with Hardy, "Surannée," is as astonishing as it ought to be; Gibbons' "Strange Melody" is a haunted atmosphere for two shattered voices; while linking with Ferry for a sparsely sinister (if a little fast) rendition of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" has a bizarre symmetry that defies belief. It is, after all, one thing for Ferry to sing a love song to a blow-up doll, but what are listeners to make of Birkin's half of the duet? Is the doll singing back to him? Does she have one of her own? Or are the protagonists locked into so dysfunctional a relationship that neither can see past the other's most obvious charms? But for all the album's failings (or, rather, those of its guests), Rendez-Vous is a wonderful album, a remarkable achievement, and as valuable a Birkin album as any of her '90s releases. ~ Dave Thompson

Pop - Released September 9, 2009 | Parlophone France

Like Marianne Faithfull, who enacted a similarly unlikely transition from '60s pop girl to modern-day legend (and affected a remarkable change in vocal stylings too), Jane Birkin has never been afraid to push her audience and herself alike, and the concert captured on 2009's live Au Palace finds her in fine form. Older fans will recognize more than a handful of "classic" Birkin numbers here, including "Ford Mustang," "Fuire le Bonheur," and the self-magnifying swing of "Ex Fan des Sixties" (the title track from her 1978 album), although the emphasis is naturally on 2008's Enfants d'Hiver: seven of the 21 songs hail from that set. The remainder are, unsurprisingly, Serge Gainsbourg compositions, but this is no exercise in simple nostalgia. A strong repertoire is given the arrangements it demands, and Birkin has rarely sounded better. ~ Dave Thompson

Pop - Released September 4, 2009 | Parlophone France


Pop - Released March 17, 2006 | Parlophone France

Brit-born actress and recording artist -- and longtime French resident -- Jane Birkin may have gained fame and fortune as being the protégé -- and the greatest love -- of composer, director, and national French hero the late Serge Gainsbourg, but her long reign as cultural heroine and quirky pop vocalist has been the result of her own toil and sweat. One would never consider that the lanky, ever-thin Birkin, she of the slightly flat, shaky voice, could have this sort of longevity, but the Europeans are far different from Americans and far more embracing than Yanks. Birkin has made a career of recording classic chansons and Gainsbourg songs -- many of the latter were written specifically for or about her -- but on Fictions, she's gone to another level. Along with Svengali engineer, arranger, and producer Renaud Letang -- who has worked with everyone from Birkin (on Rendez-Vous), to Björk, Mocky, Gonzales, Jean Michel Jarre and Alain Chamfort -- she's solicited (in the same way Marianne Faithfull has in the past) original songs form a slew of contemporary artists and recorded a few well-chosen covers to create an album firmly stamped with her heart's seal of tenderness and desperation. Beth Gibbons of Portishead (who appears as a backing vocalist here on her track), Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, Gonzales, Rufus Wainwright, and Kate Bush, along with the crop of new French chanson writers, Dominique A., Cali, and Arthur H., Birkin also covers Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan's "Alice" and Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." Former Smith Johnny Marr plays guitar and harmonica on select cuts, drummers Mocky and Regis Ceccarelli contribute as well, with most of the instruments being played either in the flesh or via sampling by Gonzales, and string arrangements by Stephane Moucha. Fictions is a warm, somewhat lush and quietly dramatic recording. There is the bittersweet decadence in Hannon's "Home" that sounds like it was written for Birkin's quirky expressiveness. The reading of "Alice" here is far more shocking than on the Waits' version from the album of the same name. Birkin seems to offer her throat to the blade as an expression of her devotion. Conversely, she treats Young's "Harvest Moon" as a cabaret song. The glockenspiel bells and country loops are absorbed inside a piano and a bit of distorted reverb, with the guitar being used merely for atmospheric pleasure. Gibbons' "My Secret" is the finest song here; it is the hinge the album turns on. It's a deeply devotional, slightly twisted, and skeletally arranged song of lost love, and Gibbons backing vocal adds depth and balance to Birkin's high-pitched reediness. The Bush tune, "Mother Stands for Comfort," which is the second from last piece here, works less well. It is a classic keyboard-and-percussion-driven bit of airiness but needs a stronger voice to hold the song in check. The French chansons are just gorgeous, particularly Cali's café ballad "Sans Toi" with a beautiful arrangement that includes a well-placed clarinet and a single guitar note played in every refrain. Dominique A.'s house-fueled "Où Est la Ville?" is a song of amorous violence where Birkin speaks and sings with a guitar loop, a cello, and handclap backbone to propel her through the spoken verses, and when she breaks loose and sings on the chorus, the comfort and daring in her voice transcend the arrangement. The set closes with "Image Fantôme," a spoken word piece with a lyric by the late, infamous French journalist and photographer Hervé Guibert set to Ravel's Pavane Pour un Infante Defunte. It is a fitting and disconcerting way to end this quiet, nearly whimsical meditation on the fictions and realities of love, passage, and acceptance. Birkin has carved a place for herself among the Europeans with her starkness, sincerity, and iconoclasm, as well as with her limited range and quirky delivery. The French love the underdog, the outsider, and those who live on the amorous edge. Whether Birkin actually does or not now, she has and that's enough, and Fictions, in all its emotional honesty and uncanny beauty, is testament to that. ~ Thom Jurek

Pop - Released November 7, 2008 | Parlophone France

2008's Enfants d'Hiver emerged very much the companion piece that 2006's Fictions seemed to be demanding, chilled out and melancholy as Birkin drifts between sweet childhood memories (hence the charming cover photo) and more bitter reflections on age; "Madame," one of the album's manifold highlights, mourns the realization that to the average passerby, she is now an "older woman" deserving of that respectful title. "It broke my heart," she sings, "like a slap...." What might surprise the casual listener is the inclusion of so many Birkin compositions -- she has rarely raised her pen in anger in the past (for obvious Serge Gainsbourg-shaped reasons), but here she writes, and writes well. ~ Dave Thompson

Pop - Released March 24, 2017 | Parlophone France