The former singer of the Go-Go’s has made an album of classic French chansons and pop tunes from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, including songs made famous by Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg and others. Stop laughing—it’s really good. Supported by a band that includes Brian Eno on keyboards, Fiachna O’Braonain (formerly of Hothouse Flowers) on guitar, and Natacha Atlas on backing vocals, Carlisle truly reinvents these songs. Programmed rhythms work alongside live drumming, and Arabic inflections provide a subtle nod to modern-day France rather than the romantic/nostalgic vision Americans may be expecting. Carlisle’s voice has deepened, and coarsened, over the years; she’s not in Marianne Faithfull territory yet, but there’s a lived-in feel to her vocals that makes the sentiments she’s expressing in songs like “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” “La Vie En Rose” and “Sous Le Ciel De Paris” even more universal. No mere kitschy novelty, Voilá is one of the strongest efforts in Carlisle’s catalog, and well worth hearing.
Q&A WITH BELINDA CARLISLE
YOU HAVEN’T MADE A NEW ALBUM FOR A DECADE. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE NOW WAS THE TIME?
I’d been living between France and England for about 14 years, and I’d become really familiar with a lot of the French artists and writers, and a couple of years ago I was at a music conference in Cannes where I was approached about making a new album, and I said I have no interest in making another pop album – been there, done that – but if anything, I love French chanson; I would love to make an album of French classics. The label thought it was a good idea, and put me together with John Reynolds, the producer, we demoed three songs and thought they sounded good, so we made this album.
YOUR VOICE SOUNDS VERY DIFFERENT ON THIS ALBUM. DID YOU CHANGE YOUR SINGING STYLE FOR THIS MATERIAL, OR IS THAT JUST A CONSEQUENCE OF AGE?
I think it’s a consequence of age. I think it’s a lot of cigarettes, and screaming, and red wine and all that. It’s maturity. I definitely couldn’t have done this album 20 years ago, no way.
HOW DID BRIAN ENO AND NATACHA ATLAS WIND UP IN YOUR BACKING BAND?
Brian Eno came into the project because he’s a friend of John Reynolds. He liked the tracks, so he did his thing, took tracks away with him, and I can’t tell you what that was for me. Even over the Stones and the Beatles, Roxy Music is my all-time favorite band, and I’ve been such a Brian Eno fan for years and years. So to actually have him involved in the project was a dream come true. Natacha Atlas, I heard her CD in a restaurant about ten years ago and bought all her albums, so I just asked her. It’s funny when you ask certain people and they say yes. Like in the past, I asked George Harrison to play guitar and he just said “Yeah, okay.” You don’t really expect to get ‘yes’ for an answer. It was a great experience working with all these people and being in the studio with them every day.
THE ARRANGEMENTS ARE VERY INTERESTING. HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE SONGS, AND HOW MUCH INPUT DID YOU HAVE INTO THE SOUND?
When I went into the project, I told John I want to make an album of French music that sounds like Massive Attack would do it. It was hard sometimes, but we all put our heads together and we did it. I think the hardest song to try to make work was “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” That’s a really difficult song, but we did it. Our attitude was, let’s just throw everything out there and see what sticks. It was really nice for me to work no-holds-barred. I knew I wanted to sing with an accordion, because I love the accordion, but I was free to do anything, and experiment. That was really nice, and I never really had that opportunity in the past.