Pity poor Carla Bruni. She’s not poor in the monetary sense of the word of course. But the Italian-born heiress, model, chanteuse and sometime squeeze of Mick Jagger, now known at G8 summits and beyond as Mme Sarkozy, is attempting to reconcile her roles as a world leader’s wife and as a strikingly beautiful and well-known artist in her own right. Critics have their poisoned, envious pens at the ready.
To some she’s living the fairytale, married to one of the world’s most powerful men, gliding about the Elysée palace as a contented mobile decoration. To others her whirlwind romance with the French president is a scarcely credible affair characterised by bling, excess and some sniggersome lyrics.
Cutting through all that baggage to her third album Comme si de rien n’était (As if nothing had happened), what is Carla Bruni like beyond the fame and fashion? Unlike fellow heiress Paris Hilton, who released an album merely to promote her own nano-celebrity, Bruni was already a singer, known especially in Europe well before Jacques Chirac gave way to his considerably shorter successor and the former Mrs Sarkozy similarly shipped out of Carla’s way. Indeed, this is her second album in the space of 18 months, following hot on the heels of No Promises.
Announcing ahead of its release that profits (should there be any) from Comme si de rien n’était would be given to charity, Bruni acknowledged that she doesn’t need the money and that at least some potential buyers might feel uncomfortable adding to the personal fortunes of the president’s family; after all, Sarko’s honeymoon is, in more ways than one, well and truly over. Displaying admirable self-awareness, Bruni makes a commendable statement: she wants to continue to be loved by her public, in her own right, not exclusively as the leggy fashion accessory on the arm of a diminuitive Frenchman.
Doubtless Sarko will enjoy the whispering of sweet nothings contained on this record, 11 songs of which were penned (or co-written) by Bruni. The trouble is, what should be her prize asset, her voice, manifests as scarcely more than a croak, an almost-there whisper most obviously akin to that of Jane Birkin. And really, 14 songs of croaking homage to Sarko is more than enough for anyone, monsieur le president possibly excepted.
Comme si de rien n’était musically seats Bruni alongside her Dramatico labelmate Katie Melua‘s anti-passionate coffee table style. It’s probably fair to assume she wasn’t planning a music revolution with this record, and it is at least more ambitious in scope than its English language predecessor’s all-covers schtick. But 14 songs breeze by lightly without anything sticking to the brain.
Repetitive, mid-tempo acoustic shamblings like Notre grand amour est mort and Tu es ma came characterise the record. 12-bar phrases dominate and are repeated, all of them vehicles for Bruni’s lyrics alone. Yet it’s easy to imagine them soundtracking coffee shops across the land, soothing the frazzled brains of those compelled to live in relative frugality and bringing a touch of continental glamour to their lives.
It’s not without its surprises. L’antilope features a ukulele hop-skipping under the lyrics, while Péché d’envie’s quickfire lines suggest an underlying vocal talent yet to be fully realised. But surprises are as rare as tempo changes or differences of expression. Mostly, Bruni waifs along from beginning to end with a single tone, volume and emphasis, still playing the oh-so-naive, comely girly foil to the world around her. One track is even named Je suis une enfant. Carla, you’re in your 40s now. A child o’the times you ain’t.
At one point she offers her body, soul and – ooh la la! – her chrysathemum to her lover, but even that is beaten by the record’s most tragic moment, a cover of Bob Dylan‘s You Belong To Me, a song recorded by everybody from Jim Reeves to Patsy Cline. Bruni manages to croak out the first verse over acoustic guitar… and then repeats it ad nauseum. What happened to the rest of the song, Carla? Could you not remember the lyrics? It’s wistfully pleasant enough, but in such bald form decidedly un-necessary.
Following Comme si de rien n’était, perhaps for her next album Bruni will rail against eight-course excesses at G8 meetings. For now, she’ll surely get over the worst those poisoned pens can squirt at her.