It was only a couple of hours after buying her new CD in Paris the other day that I picked up an English newspaper and read an interview in which Françoise Hardy was characterised as a “muse” to leading male artists of her era: Dylan, Jagger, and so on. The writer may have intended it as a compliment to one of the great 60s beauties but it seemed more like an insult because the term usually suggests a passive supplier of inspiration, and Hardy was never that. What’s often forgotten is that she wrote her first hit, “Tous les garçons et les filles”, herself in 1962, when she was a mere 18 years old, and over the years she has turned into a singer and writer whose albums are seldom less than compelling.
Since the excellent Decalages arrived in 1988 I’ve bought pretty well all of them as a matter of course, with Clair-obscur (2000), Tant de belles choses (2004) and La Pluie sans parapluie (2010) being particularly worth the trouble. And in 2008 there was her autobiography, Le Desespoir des singes et autres bagatelles (The Monkeys’ Despair and Other Trifles), in which she recounted the tale of a rather extraordinary life with clarity, honesty, humour and the sort of style you’d expect from someone who, albeit briefly, studied literature at the Sorbonne. (And there’s a particularly good passage about spending time with Dylan in Paris in 1965: he was more impressed than she was.)
Most of her music has been made in association with others, from Michel Berger and Gabriel Yared to her husband Jacques Dutronc, and her new album, L’amour fou, finds her working with a selection of collaborators. Names unlikely to be familiar to most British listeners are sprinkled among the songwriting credits, including those of Thierry Stremler, Calogero, Pascal Colomb, Alain Lanty and Benoit Carre, but at no cost to the unity of mood found throughout this sequence of the 10 songs.
These are modern chansons, blue-hour ballads of loss and regret elegantly cloaked in discreet arrangements — piano and strings, mostly — that accentuate the mood and never get in the way of a voice that is very slightly (and appropriately) deeper and richer but still recognisably that of the woman who, in her young days, sang “La fin de l’ete” and “Comment te dire adieu?”: the girl on the cover of Salut les copains and Mademoiselle Age Tendre, of course, but always much more than that.
There doesn’t seem to be a promo clip of my favourite track, “Mal au coeur”, but here’s one of the title song: