Charles Aznavour ‘Sings in English. Greatest Hits’ (Barclay/Wrasse) 2/5

AznavourFrench chanteur Charles Aznavour perfected his craft during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s in his native language and wrote and recorded some fine songs, but by the early 1970s was in search of a wider international audience and attempted to capture that public by singing his most memorable French language songs in English. The results are chronicled on this English only anthology which will be anathema to anyone who truly enjoys the French chanson tradition. By far his most successful in the UK was ‘She’ back in 1975 which gave a false impression of Aznavour’s talent and stereotyped him as a romantic crooner. In the next few decades he entered MOR territory, duetting with the likes of Céline Dion (who can actually sing in French being Québecoise) and Sting, and even the obligatory post-death synchronised duet with Frank Sinatra. This writer’s advice would be for new listeners to stick to the original French versions, widely available elsewhere and easy to find. But one example is the terrific uptempo original of ‘Le Temps’ which was reprised on the soundtrack to a classy French thriller from the late 1990s, ‘L’Appartement’ and contrast that with the tame version contained on this. There really is no comparison and therein lies the major fault line with this compilation; infinitely superior versions exist elsewhere and in the singer’s natural native tongue so why bother with reworkings in another language? Incidentally the album celebrates Charles Aznavour’s imminent ninetieth birthday.

Tim Stenhouse