Michel Sardou ‘La Dernière Danse’ 2CD + DVD (Mercury/Universal France) 4/5

One of the all-time great lyricists, singer-songwriter Michel Sardou is held in the highest esteem by lovers of the French language and chanson tradition, and his evocative lyrics have graced subject matter on myriad issues from gratitude for American support during World War Two to evocative songs depicting far way places such as Argentina (‘San Lorenzo’) and, from a French perspective at least, Ireland (Les lacs du Connemara’). Now seventy-five years of age, he has decided to retire from music altogether and this concert is reputed to be his last ever. If the delivery comes across at first as deadpan and with relatively little theatricality to begin with on stage (that changes later in the concert), then Sardou nonetheless captivates the adoring audience and the richness of the text in French is mightily impressive with anyone who has an advanced level of French.

On occasion, his songs have aroused controversy, not least ‘Être une femme’ (aka ‘Femmes des années 1980’), which resulted in some accusing him of being both, ‘macho and facho’ (‘fascist’). However, that would be to misunderstand his true intentions and his love of humanity shines through in his defence of women of the Muslim faith (‘les musulmanes’), his profound love of Irish culture and people (‘Les lacs du Connemara’), or indeed his nostalgia for the old French government controlled ship liner, ‘Le France’ (another song title) that sailed across the Atlantic to the United States. Moreover, his profound feeling of compassion for Americans in the song ‘Les Ricains’, is heartfelt and he belongs to the generation that witnessed first hand the liberation of France, thereby saving the French nation, in his view, from permanently speaking German (explicitly alluded to in the text).

Sardou fits comfortably into the history of the chanson tradition, but pays homage to that same tradition, with a lovely cover of Barbara’s ‘L’aigle noir’, and in reprising the original version of Claude François’ ‘Comme d’habitude’, which English language audiences know far better in the translated version that Frank Sinatra made his own with ‘I Did It My Way’. At various points during the concert, the French audience express their unadulterated love of Sardou with cries of, ‘Michel, Michel’, and he does attract long-term devotion among his coterie of fans. Powerful love ballads are another forte with simple yet meaningful titles such as, ‘Maladie d’amour’ and ‘Je vais t’aimer’. If this sounds a tad melodramatic, then it is part and parcel of the French character and DNA and Sardou is capable of tackling all manner of topics, including the French exam system on a duet with cellist Mathilde Gervas plus piano on, ‘Le bac G’. It has to be pointed out that the creative conceptual imagery is deserving of the highest praise and the evocative lighting and background images are never less than spectacular. A more pared down approach is adopted also on his ode to Buenos Aires, ‘San Lorenzo’, with accordion to accompany. Of note is the Gotan Project violinst, Lise Krause, who participates. In fact, there are some major names among the audience too including French nouvelle vague actor and star of ‘A Bout de Souffle’ and other classic films, Jean-Paul Belmondo, name checked by Sardou. Interestingly, the concert party takes off with a discofied version of ‘Être une femme’, which is sung by the women in the audience in a humorous and somewhat ironic tone. Any potential offence it might have caused when it was originally released has long since evaporated. If you only wish to cut to the essential of Michel Sardou’s vast repertoire, then this may just be the ideal package and the exemplary DVD complements the same set of songs on the two CDs. Merci Michel!

Tim Stenhouse