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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004 03:20 pm

sound patrol 11-18-04

Another reason to bone up on French

Carla Bruni QuelquÕun mÕa dit (Nave/V2)

Carla Bruni
QuelquÕun mÕa dit

Don't hate Carla Bruni because she's beautiful. If you're going to hate her, there are plenty of other, better reasons. The 36-year-old Italian-born, French-bred former supermodel has dated Mick Jagger, Donald Trump, and Eric Clapton. Her father is a wealthy industrialist (and respected avant-garde composer); her sister is the semifamous actress and director Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi; and Bruni's debut CD, Quelqu'un m'a dit, which came out two years ago in Europe and was just recently released domestically, has already sold more than a million copies and earned her the French equivalent of a Grammy Award. Jealous much? Adding insult to injury, Bruni is not just extravagantly gorgeous, filthy rich, and commercially successful, she's also getting excellent reviews from grouchy critics, who generally don't take kindly to singing supermodels.

Despite all these facts, you probably shouldn't hate Bruni at all. True, her libido for ancient rich dudes borders on repulsive, but, hey, that's her business, and you don't see a global boycott of Catherine Zeta-Jones movies. True, Bruni started out as a model, but so did Nico and Marianne Faithfull, and who wants to strike them from the annals of rock history? And it's also true that Bruni sings in French, which, as any member of the Bush cabinet will tell you, practically makes her a terrorist, but any moron susceptible to this line of argument is better off sticking to Brooks & Dunn and other Rove-approved exemplars of Korporate Kountry Krap. The best reason to give Bruni's music an open-minded listen is that it's beautiful, and beautiful things ought to make us happy, not miserable. Does a magnolia tree in bloom bring out your petty side? Do you go around spitting on stuff at the art museum?

If you can keep the green-eyed envy in check, Quelqu'un m'a dit offers great pleasures. Bruni wrote or co-wrote 10 of the album's 12 songs, and her sympathetic sideman, Louis Bertignac (formerly of Téléphone, a French rock band that enjoyed some success on the Continent during the '80s), brings a warm, boudoirish feel to the proceedings thanks to gently plucked acoustic guitar, minimal percussion, and the occasional mandolin, piano, and bicycle bell. With her sweet, unassuming rasp, Bruni sounds as if she was up all night smoking Gauloises sans filtres and drinking espresso and arguing about poststructuralism with her Sorbonne chums; suddenly it's morning, and for some inexplicable reason she went home with you, you lucky dog, and now she wants to share your pillow and croon her sleepy little lover's lullabies in your unworthy ear. Although Bruni's sex-kitten murmur and somewhat limited range conjure comparisons to the usual Francophone suspects -- Françoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin -- she's more indebted to American folk music than to French chanson. Sounding a bit like a saner Chan Marshall (of Cat Power) or a sluttier Norah Jones, Bruni makes tasteful music that tastes good -- nothing too scary or visceral, nothing too strange or off-putting, just pleasantly diffuse appropriations of time-tested formulas.

If the CD has a flaw, it's that it's almost monotonously lovely, a gauzy, oh-so-French blend of romantic melancholy and fragile hauteur. But not every artist can shock and scandalize, and merçi á dieu for that, because you can't play your Boyd Rice CDs when your grandma's coming over for brunch, and no one wants to make out to Dizzee Rascal. Plus, it's high time that you boned up on your French vocabulary; with good ol' Jesusland turning ever redder (and redder-necked), you never know when you'll need to speak the second language of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Kerry.

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