Brigitte Fontaine was a mesmeric mandarin in early 70’s European Avant-Garde (with a delectable French vivant), transmogrifying a massive pastiche of genres, themes & instrumentations. I don’t know too much about her background, but it seems her professional radix originates from the theatrics of French Jazz crooning of the 50’s/60’s, ball-rooms, bobs, oil-spill mascara, bohemian mischief n’ the like (sorry, it’s not an era or genre I am knowledgeable on). The earliest material I have of her is a 1967 collaboration LP with Jacques Higelin (whom Brigitte worked with frequently) & is generally more straight, albeit clearly very thespian, hyper blithesome & keen to frolic in boundary contesting terrain with blatant Avant leanings & appetite. Anyway, she went on to do lots of really exquisite, weird, supra-diverse, challenging & adventurous recordings in the early 70’s, all brilliant & firmly in the allo-Avant expanse. For me though, having wallowed in the lot for some time now, I have no qualms with nominating my favourite from her as this s/t LP from 1972, for me not just her best but also her most outré & eccentric of the lot.
This is a particularly wonderful record. French Avant-Garde from the sixties sung by a sultry brunette is going to struggle to fall flat, but this LP really scales to the loftiest echelon, not just for it’s superb content & remarkable versatility but the perfect crafting/mixing of the LP that has such a conclusive & satisfactory entirety, unfurling like the perfect diagesis from sequence to sequence.
Unfortunately my French is terrible, so I understand very little of the lyrics in this beautiful language. No matter, as it’s totally transfixing & beguiling, but from what I can gather love, sex, revolution & socio-political subjects provide the bulk of sentiment & lyrical content. Brigitte sings beautifully, not at all in one style, harnessing operatic, choir, nursery rhyme, spoken word, screaming, crying & many more mediums & modals.
Organ, Synthesizer, hand drums, brass & reeds, cello, guitar & additional male & female vocals accompany. Like the moods & melange of styles, the miscellany of musicians & instrumentation constantly changes, occasionally deserting entirely with nothing but Fontaine’s bare voice performing solitarily. A lot of the arrangements seem very conceptual, perhaps trying to encapsulate the songs theme? (I don’t know of the composition process). Many of the tracks also have very cool micro epilogues embedded, garnishing a baroque twist to the closing sequence with cinematic evocations. I really love this stuff, it’s just so polymerous & unpredictable & manages to edge it’s way into the most surreal situations etched in pure emotive oddity.
I won’t break down the entire track codex, & they work exceptionally well when played as one piece (or two, side’s A & B), I’m sure considerable craft & deliberation has gone into the ergonomic-enjoining, but for me some individual songs need highlighting. On side-A, “L’Auberge” a rueful, elegiac, choiresque, ecclesial spoof that despite it’s beauty has bizarreness that belongs in the house of freaks. It’s two cello’s (or cello & violin) plus organ along with Brigitte’s mournful, supressed-pomp basilica. “Vingt Secondes” a distinctly peculiar twenty second flute & duel female vocal codicil that closes Side-A also needs notation.
Side-B’s incepting piece Eros is a intense, dark & beautiful ballad accompanied only by intermittent & minimal acoustic guitar. The following track “Une Minute Cinquante-Cinq” that has Fontaine & fellow vocalist Julie Dassin singing rousingly over another recording of Fontaine weeping is also really quite amazing & both beautiful & unsettling.
Really, we have one seriously fulgurating LP here, & personally for me the best & most abstruse from Fontaine’s incredible 70’s output. There’s so much coalescing, so many strange & novel ideas, detail & methods all swaddled in this irresistible Avant-Garde premium. Really glorious stuff.
Fantastically, this album is still in print along with pretty much all of Brigitte’s early stuff which is all worth picking up.