With 500,000 sales of second album Le Fil chalked up, on the follow-up Music Hole Camille Dalmais does what few French artists dare and sings mainly in English. Sacre bleu! She must be selling out her Frenchness, non?
Singing in English makes sense. In two songs she sends up American divas (lead single Gospel With No Lord and stand-out Money Note). In another she has a bone or two to pick with anthropomorphisising pets (Cats And Dogs), a decidedly English habit. And if she wants to sing in English? Mais oui, mademoiselle. Encore!
Camille’s time as an occasional cover versions performer with Nouvelle Vague are long behind her, and Music Hole underlines that as an artist in her own right she is far more than a singer, though she certainly can unleash her voice when she chooses to. Camille’s other talents include ‘body percussion’ which, as on Le Fil, she and producer MaJiKer records, loops and multitracks to create densely textured layers of bass, beats and backing noises. She’s often compared to Björk, and with good reason – she is every bit as unique, and the switch of language to English does nothing to alter that.
Money Note is possibly the best thing she’s yet done – not only musically brilliant but hilarious too. “If Dolly Parton wrote it/ And Whitney Houston stole it/ If Celine Dion could reach it/ I’ll hit the money note!”, she determinedly announces before squeaking a note almost beyond the upper limit of human hearing. Play it to your dog and watch it run and hide while you giggle.
Her sense of humour runs right through the album. Cats And Dogs features a menagerie of animalistic impersonations, with goats, donkeys and sundry other furry friends all aurally depicted in the second half of a song that had begun as a piano-led waltz of Edith Piaf proportions. And in Canards Sauvages she sounds like she’s sampling herself as she splashes bath water.
But the technical brilliance of the record takes the breath away as soon as the giggles subside. Home Is Where It Hurts, with a lovely counter-melody, starts as a vocal bassline and an almost-spoken melody line but builds to pack a powerful emotional punch through a rich soundscape of clicks, background vocals that have to be heard loudly, through headphones to be believed.
Aside from the big numbers, Music Hole reveals itself as an album of considerable depth with each listen. It’s made so by the tracks that don’t immediately grab but instead insiduously get inside your head – the epic The Monk, with its beautiful operatic opening, and the relatively frothy Katie’s Tea, which suddenly turns bloodcurdling just before the end. Winter’s Child, with its Le Fil-like single note drone and palpable sense of desolation, is the perfect partner of the equally soundtrack-worthy Waves, built on morse code rhythms.
But the album ends on a big sugary piano ballad called Sanges Sweet that trumps the Celines and Whitneys of this world at their own game. For all her sending-up humour, Camille loves singing. It’s this track that pointedly emphasises this.
Le Fil was a masterclass in what can be done with a voice as an instrument. Music Hole, with the notable addition of piano, is more varied and, impressively, even better developed. Whether the Anglophonic world will ever accept a French lady as readily as they might accept, say, an Icelandic one, is anyone’s guess. They should. This is a recording artist at the height of her powers.