COMME SI DE RIEN N'ÉTAIT
As if nothing had happened. As if she hadn't married the President of France, moved into the Elysée Palace, and become a cover girl all over again. Carla Bruni's third album has come into the world as though Nicolas Sarkozy had never giggled her name at a press conference, and why not? The album was mostly written and recorded before Bruni became the President's more popular consort.
She's an heiress, former supermodel and genuine pop star, at least in Europe, where her first album, Quelqu'un m'a dit, got good reviews and sold two million copies. No Promises (2007), an English-language album based on poems by W.B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson and others, won high marks for ambition, though did not sell well till Sarkozy came along.
With Comme si de rien n'était, Bruni returns to the style and substance of the first record, while attempting to maintain the high seriousness of the second. The 12 original songs (including one with lyrics by novelist Michel Houellebecq) treat life as a fatal game. The lyrics regard the blood sports of love and possession with the focused detachment of someone who has retired from the field only long enough to jot down the score. Bruni's husky purr has an offhand intensity that's hard to resist, and her music (performed with a small, expert band) is a sly amalgam of French chanson, guitar-based folk, Latin dance, rock and blues.
Ten years after quitting the catwalks, Bruni is ready to ponder le temps perdu (in the opening Ma jeunesse), but not to admit that the best years may be over. " Je suis une enfant," she sings in the song by that name, "Malgré mes quarante ans /Malgré mes trente amants." ("In spite of my 40 years and 30 lovers.") The tune is borrowed from Robert Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), a witty reminder that Bruni comes from a musical family: Her father was an opera composer, her mother a concert pianist. Salut marin is a dark, waltzing farewell to one of those 30 lovers (who apparently include Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton), not far from Piaf territory.
The most-discussed number on the album, to be released Tuesday, is bound to be Tu es ma came (You are my fix), in which Bruni compares her love to Afghan heroin and Colombian coke (it sounds better in French). Sarkozy's favourite may turn out to be Ta tienne, a pulsing Latin number in which the singer pledges to give up " ma carrière d'amazone" and become a devoted, faithful sweetie. But the traffic runs both ways: Bruni's version of You Belong to Me reminds the object of her affections that no matter how far he travels, he's nobody else's baby. Something to think about during state visits.