You’re not just one of the leading heiresses of your country. You’ve also developed a splashy career in the public eye; your life has become a fishbowl and you give every indication of liking it that way. Your romantic life is the stuff of speculation, scandal rags, and salacious scenes. Somehow, that’s not enough, so you decide you’re going to be a singer. You’re Paris Hilton, right? Wrong. Because against all critical expectations, it turns out you don’t suck. You’re Carla Bruni.
Today at work as I listened to Quelqu’un m’a dit for the first time in a couple of years, I could only shake my head and wonder how stupid Paris Hilton could possibly be. The parallels between her situation and Bruni’s, an Italian heiress-turned playgirl-turned model-turned musician are unmistakable. But Hilton chose to release an album wherein the alterations of high-visibility producers obviously struggle to obscure the weakness of her voice. In the process, she provided easy fodder for Dangermouse to alter into a prank remix that will undoubtedly be much more in demand than the original.
Bruni was smarter. In 2002, she was in a position similar to Hilton’s. At the height of her notoriety, she’d reportedly capped off a string of affairs with aging British rock stars by snagging the husband of famous French novelist Justine Levy, who later released a wildly popular and acclaimed ‘novel’ based on the end of her marriage. But the album Bruni released couldn’t have been more different from Hilton’s.
Bruni’s voice isn’t much stronger, as far as that goes. It’s raspy, and if Quelqu’un m’a dit is anything to go by, has no range. But instead of hiding that, she works with it, singing slight tunes of her own engaging lyrics over a simple acoustic backing. The effect is a very intimate album.
The title track, though cutesy, is too unobtrusively pretty and evocative of the line between real and high school love to dislike. The song she sings for her married conquest (who she went on to marry herself), “Raphaël”, in which she savors the individual sounds of his name and calls him a love devil with the eyes of an angel (believe me, it sounds prettier in French) is about as sexy as burry acoustic songs come. “La Noyée”, a devastating Serge Gainsbourg cover, gets a slow, lazy treatment here that’s beautiful without qualification. And the clever lyrics of both “Le toi de moi” and “Le plus beau de quartier” over simple, earwormish tunes are irresistible.
Much of the rest of the album veers too far towards the clever sap for me to get into with a whole heart. The sappiness is never unbearable, however. Instead it recalls those half-hours when you're chemically fucked up or paralytically drunk and crawl into bed, only to have what seems like an unexpected burst of clarity that usually gets murmured into your pillow or the ear of someone even more fucked up than you are because you're too physically exhausted to get up and find a pen. And considering Carla Bruni is a retired supermodel, that may have been what happened. Except she was clever enough to keep a pen in arm's reach.
She’s also clever in how she frames that slight, raspy voice. It would sound like crap mixed into electronic tunes, or else like a clever producer was trying to mask (cough) Paris Hilton (cough) it. As it stands, she pulls off the feat of making this listener think this is what Jeff Tweedy of Wilco would sound like if he was a chick.
So a lesson to heiresses aspiring to be musicians everywhere; treat your music like your money. Work with what you got, not what you think you should have, and don’t rely on other people to take care of it.