PIERRE De GAILLANDE
Bad Reputation: Volume 2
Vermillion Records 0009
It sounds like a great idea–have a French-born, New York City-based former punk musician translate and sing the songs of Georges Brassens (1921-81). Brassens isn’t a household name in the United States, but was in France–as a poet, anarchist, and outré folk singer. To say that Brassens didn’t sing about flowers and rainbows would be a gross understatement. Among the songs resurrected for this album are those that deal with streetwalkers (“Lament of the Ladies of Leisure”), several anti-love songs (“The Storm,” “With All Due Respect”), and a few deathbed requests. Of the latter, “The Old Man” expresses his desire to shuffle off this mortal coil with alcohol, loose women, and wild music instead of holy water, nuns, and hymns; and in “The Codicil,” that scantily clad nymphs might dance upon his oceanside grave.
Material like this ought to be golden safety pins for a former punk rocker. Alas, it’s not. Bad Reputation 2 never rises (sinks?) to the insouciant, debauched levels of the originals. Why? First of all, Brassens the poet was masterful with language–so much so that much of his work is considered untranslatable. De Gaillande has done a better job than most, but lyrics that flow and sing in French sound forced and turgid in English. Second, the music was decidedly of an era. The avant-garde café folk of the 1940s/50s now sounds rather naff, and one wonders if the result might have been more exciting had de Gaillande given the tunes a neo-punk update. Even then one would face the obstacle that de Gaillande is, at best, an adequate singer. He can carry a tune, but he doesn’t have the range to bring drama to and accent the humor within music in which it’s just voice, instrument, and lyric. In the end, Bad Reputation 2 feels like a novelty record. Translation: Limited appeal to a specialized market.