Hailed as the herald of the new French 'chanson' scene, Vincent Delerm has established a reputation for his imaginative, poetic songwriting. And on this, his second album, he takes listeners on a tour of that most English of destinations, Kensington Square. Delerm admits that his second opus is "more melancholic" than its predecessor. "Given Joseph Racaille's arrangements on my debut album, things actually bordered on ragtime at times, " he says, "So as soon as the new album came out, I kept my eyes peeled for the first reviews. The first reviews generally give you a feel of what's to follow from the press. Apparently, the critics seem to think that the songs on the new album are more inaccessible than those on the first album. I don't know whether that's true or not! But, hey, why not?" The difficulty of Delerm's songwriting is relative, in any case. Those who understand the key to his nostalgic references – which include the late French film-maker François Truffaut, the post-Giscard d'Estaing, neo-Mitterand writer Modiano and rock singer Frank Black – will not have the slightest trouble deciphering the latest offering from Delerm.
More tuned into The Persuaders than Starsky & Hutch, Delerm seeks unashamed inspiration in the late 70s, an era when he experienced his first stirrings of attraction to the opposite sex. "'Les filles de 73' is a song about girls I knew in high school," smiles Delerm, "In the song I quote names like Katia Bocage or Elise Duffard, but there are also names I've made up, fusing different Christian names and surnames together. After all, I didn't want anyone to turn round and sue me! I like using names in my songs because I feel they've got more substance than simple nouns. There's something catchier about them. This was also the perfect occasion to knock the common idea about me on the head, this idea that I only use names in my songs to show off how cultivated I am. I can hardly be accused of that this time round because these are the names of anonymous individuals."
It's true that Delerm has earned his fair share of criticism to date, detractors frequently accusing him of having swapped his Thesaurus for a copy of Who's Who. But, in fact, his songs are more than simple exercises in name-dropping. The names Delerm cites in his songwriting are more likely to be those of key figures who played a major role in his discovery of music, cinema and literature. Given this penchant for nostalgia, one may be forgiven for wondering why the singer who is so often cited as the future of French 'chanson' spends so much time looking back over his shoulder! "Looking to the future just sounds like some cheap advertising gimmick," Delerm groans, "There's no law when it comes to songwriting, you know, telling you what you can and can't do. I think I'm more oriented towards the past because I want to write about things that bear some resemblance to real life. And I think I'm more on top of things when it comes to writing about the past than about something I haven't experienced yet. It's just my personal way of expressing myself. But I have to say if it got to a point where I was just rehashing the same themes over and over again, I'd stop. No problem!"
While vocally speaking Delerm seems to be on the point of fading away and expiring at the end of each line, musically things have considerably livened up since he came into contact with the strings of the Alhambra ensemble, the keyboards of Cyril Wambergue and his new Sheller-style brass section. This vibrant fusion results in some absolute musical gems on Delerm's new album such as the beautifully baroque Kensington Square. Evreux (a duet between Delerm and Amin Maalouf's nephew) is also moving in its simplicity. If they don't get off on the witty dialogue in a Vietnamese restaurant ("Dish no. 43 is pork and soja!"), listeners are guaranteed to succumb to the delicious trumpet counterpoint laid over a sumptuous bed of keyboards. Incidentally, perhaps the most apt comparison for Vincent Delerm is "nouvelle cuisine." You start off sitting in front of your half-empty plate with a long face, wondering what exactly you're supposed to do with that pathetic wisp of carrot. But in the end you find you can't resist going back for more of those simple but essential flavours!
Delerm is certainly flavour of the month right now but he remembers, "When my first album came out everyone was like "Oh la la! Talk about élite! That's never going to catch on. But people soon changed their tune when my album sales topped the 100,000 mark. Then it was like I'd found the secret formula for success! … I don't know whether it's very trendy to listen to Delerm albums or not. I don't think it's exactly the right time for me in trendy Parisian circles right now. But one thing's for sure and that is that nothing changes quicker than trendy Parisian circles, so I can't say I'm all that worried about my current status or lack of it!" We can only say, Delerm's musical future looks assured whatever the fickle tendencies of the Parisian elite.
Vincent Delerm Kensington Square (Tôt ou tard / Warner)
Translation : Julie Street