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|From the yellow taxi whose meter is still running in our memories to Chet Baker’s Studebaker on Divinidylle twenty years later, Vanessa Paradis’s songs have enchanted millions. Fast-paced or slow and easy, in Tandem with some of the finest artists from France and abroad, snugly solo or full sail ahead on the airwaves, they belong to all of us and yet are Vanessa’s alone. They form a stock of shared souvenirs presented again on this Best of, along with a previously unreleased bonus: Il y a (There’s), a potential preview of an imminent expedition with a flight plan drawn up by Gaëtan Roussel (Louise Attaque). But for now, let’s rewind… A career that has so far lasted just over twenty years, five albums (but only two in the last sixteen years), three live records, a dozen film roles in the intervals, successive iconic advertising campaigns and an impenetrable veil of privacy drawn over the rest: not bad. In fact, remarkably not bad for a young woman almost no-one originally thought would make it far beyond the precocious early days of her first appearances. |
Vanessa was already ahead of the game at the dawn of her official career as a singer in 1987, guided by her actor uncle who introduced her to a few friends and musicians of his acquaintance. From the age of six or seven, Vanessa sang in the mirror of illusion that features so prominently in little girls’ rooms, a window onto a world beyond that has attracted the curious ever since Lewis Carroll published “Through the Looking Glass”. Her dreams were Bigger than Life, fuelled by Hollywood musical comedies whose enchanted whirl, crazily geometric steps and thrilling melodies she knew by heart. Singing, dancing and acting formed the tripod that underpinned her greatest desires - desires she remained determined to realise when so many others set them aside at the start of adolescence. Will-power played a huge part and so did her luck in meeting Franck Langolff and Etienne Roda-Gil so early on, instead of the kind of ordinary studio hack who would have patronised the intrepid youngster.
Amazing providence lent a hand too when Serge Gainsbourg himself offered her his services shortly after, adding the gilt of his talent to her first giant steps. For those who were not yet born or on an extended visit to the Moon at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, we should point out that Vanessa Paradis was one of the hottest topics of conversation and contention in France. She was a deeply entrenched social phenomenon, with each individual confirming their certainties, declaring their passion (fired by memories of Lolita) or pouring their venom tinged with jealousy out on the young singer. Hers was a contemporary myth of a kind not seen since Bardot’s Aphrodite in the 60s. Her name, Paradis, was more magical than any stage sobriquet (although it would very soon become redundant as she was identified by her first name alone, like Lolita herself). She was now Vanessa, the rising young star artistically wed to a series of veteran song-writing legends. Each in turn was subtle enough not to rush the child as she metamorphosed into the singer and then the woman. The first among them was Etienne Roda-Gil, creator of the Taxi that set her off on this wild road movie, as well as all the other songs on her first album, each a picture to be cut out and pasted in a white notebook (Maxou), carefully avoiding any excess of “I”, a dangerous pronoun to use at the age of fourteen, one that can scar you for life. Next came Gainsbourg, who inevitably went straight to the heart of the matter, expertly deploying Variations sur le même t’aime (Variations on a Single Love You) to reflect each of Vanessa’s conflicting aims: self-liberation and self-protection, the reconciliation of romanticism and the Flowers of Evil. Gainsbourg’s slogan “Paradis c’est l’enfer” (Paradise is Hell) was an epitaph for childhood and the key to legend status. Finally, we should mention director Jean-Claude Brisseau, whose film Noce blanche (White Wedding) came at just the right moment to show sceptics that Vanessa Paradis was no malleable doll: a fiery actor stood behind the smoke and mirrors of the teen idol.
Although Franck Langolff was her musical wizard all through her years of apprenticeship, Vanessa Paradis’s first far-reaching artistic metamorphosis came in New York, where she deliberately cut herself off from all her familiar benchmarks. There, on her own initiative, she entrusted her first English-language album (originally requested by her recording company) to a young rising American star, Lenny Kravitz. Assisted by vintage-sound architect Henry Hirsch, Kravitz built a Sixties chapel of sound around Vanessa, with gleams of Burt Bacharach, The Supremes, Phil Spector and Sly Stone shimmering in the stained glass.
Later (actually much later, after seven years of thought, films and personal achievement) Vanessa was again guided by intuition when she turned to the newly-named “- M -”, sensing his potential as a long-term associate. Their partnership led to two albums. Not content simply to use his superpowers as a songwriter, guitarist, producer and mediator (he brought Franck Monnet, Albin de La Simone, Jean Fauque and Brigitte Fontaine to Paradis), Matthieu Chedid encouraged Vanessa to take the plunge and begin to write and produce herself. When her partner Johnny Depp gave her a guitar, lessons and a magic word (Bliss), he kindled the flame of craving for artistic fulfilment that bathed her subsequent albums in its glow. Finally, in 2007, twenty years after Joe le taxi took off to a racing start, the glittering saga of Divinidylle, the record and tour, carried Vanessa Paradis back to the France she so brilliantly symbolises. Today, this Best of prolongs the pleasure, from Joe in the rear-view mirror to Il y a and its implied ellipsis, whose continuation we are keen to discover.
To conclude in a highly personal vein, Vanessa Paradis chose to extend the delights of this Best of to a second CD, a private exploration of her secret archives and the side-streets of her career. She put a lot of work into choosing the songs on this second CD herself. They especially include two entirely new versions of Marylin & John and Scarabée (Beetle), songs from her first album revisited and recorded unplugged with Albin de La Simone playing the bespoke tailor. Another previously unreleased pearl is her cover of Cole Porter’s I Love Paris, made for a Paris Airports advertising campaign, this time with the young master of French swing Fred Palem on drums and trumpet. To the songs taken from her Bliss album or the collector’s edition of Divinidylle (Dans mon café - In My Coffee, Jackadi, St Germain, Abracadabra, I Wouldn’t Dare, all dear to the artist), Vanessa has added some wonderfully successful duets with - M - , Jane Birkin and Alain Souchon, live covers of Charles Aznavour and The Zombies’ staggering This Will Be Our Year, an “exotica” style number taken from the original soundtrack of Atomik Circus and recorded in the activist company of the Little Rabbits (Concia chachacha), and her contribution to the musical comedy Le soldat rose (Made In Asia). Finally, one of the remarkable (re)discoveries on this second CD is Varvara Pavlovna, written by Bertrand Chatenet under the influence of Turgenev. It initially featured on the B side of Joe le taxi. The original version of this fictional pearl set to music by Franck Langolff appears for the first time on this CD.