Pink Martini ‘Non Ouais – the French Songs of Pink Martini’ CD (Wrasse) 4/5

Pink Martini may be something of an acquired taste to some, but this new offering is in fact a summation of the group’s French language repertoire and is, in this writer’s estimation, the strongest overall album to date. First of all, the lyrics and voice are authentic (with French native speaker songwriters overseeing matters) and have a nostalgic old world feel which, in a world of endless political chaos and major technological upheaval, comes as light relief. Secondly, the predominantly original music (all but two songs are originals) is highly entertaining and varied in style. A grower of a number is, ‘Sympathique (je ne veux pas travailler)’/’Friendly (I do not want to work)’, with lovely acoustic guitar and piano solo, while taking a leaf out of the early 1960s Serge Gainsbourg repertoire and especially the ‘Gainsbourg Percussions’ recording is the uptempo, ‘Dansez-vous?’/’Do you dance?’, with female vocals. It bears a resemblance to, ‘Couleur café’.

Of the covers, ‘Ma solitude’, is a George Moustaki song that features the author on vocals and guitar, while the Henri Salvador chestnut, ‘Syracuse’, is interpreted as a decidedly slow piece in the intro with jazzy piano accompaniment and strings, while China Forbes once again demonstrates that she is a totally credible lead singer in French. It should be stated that creating that authentic old-time atmosphere is the expert arrangements and delivery of the Harvey Rosencratz Orchestra. The band excel on the Latinesque cha cha cha approach to, ‘Où est ma tête?’/’Where is my head?’, or the orchestrated bossa nova groove to accompany, ‘Je ne t’aime plus’/’I no longer love you’. Only the overly schmalzy rock ‘n’ roll meets pop of, ‘Fini la musique’/’Music has ended’, fails to impress. In these times of outward hostility to all things perceived as ‘foreign’, where easy and vulnerable scapegoats are sought, it is reassuring to hear a band that positively champions diversity and an enlightened attitude towards the rest of the world.

Léo Ferré in 1960 was among the first French singers to make explicit reference to the invasion of the English language into current day French usage, with a humorous take and touched a nerve in the process. There is, then, a sense of current day role reversal with a US band in Pink Martini, albeit one from the north-east in proximity to Canada and the francophone world, tackling French language material. One wonders what Monsieur le Président des Etats-Unis (the United States President) would make of it. If he should read this, no tweets please!

Tim Stenhouse