I have been remiss: I failed to mark the release of French pop star Etienne Daho's new album earlier this month. Le condamné à mort revisits a poem by Jean Genet Daho performed in part earlier in his career, this time accompanied by actress Jeanne Moreau. Genet's first poem, written in prison in 1942, it was dedicated to his muse Maurice Pilorge, who was executed aged 24 in Rennes in 1939. As one reviewer on Amazon France notes, 'à ne pas écouter en présence des enfants.'
Daho is a pop phenomenon, whose equivalent in English-language music might be a mix of Madonna, Pet Shop Boys and George Michael. Born in Oran, Algeria, in 1956, he emerged from the post-punk movement in 1981 as a writer of perfectly formed songs with a quick ear for the happy collaboration, notably with friends from his student days in Rennes.
Le condamné... is his 21st album in a 30-year career, including a couple of EPs (notably Reserection with St Etienne in 1995), a few greatest hits compilations and several live discs. Here's a round-up of his 10 studio albums, many of which were recorded in London, starting with the best:
- 1. Pour nos vies martiennes, 1988 While Pop satori marks a crucial moment in the development of French pop music, equivalent to Pet Shop Boys' Please around the same time, Daho's song writing has never been consistently stronger than here. It's impossible to pick stand-out tracks from Pour nos vies' menu of acoustic pop classics, whose cover was painted by Rolling Stones and Bowie luminary Guy Peellaert.
- 2. Pop satori, 1986 Daho's playful mid-1980s take on synthpop includes some of his most popular songs, Epaule tattoo, Paris, le Flore and Duel au soleil. The title track and chain-rattling 4,000 années d'horreur add to the fun, while a deluxe edition released in 2003 included remixes by Fischerspooner, among others.
- 3. Eden, 1996 Ten years after Pop satori, Daho bravely returned to the electro frontline with this biblically themed concept album, of all things, which builds from opener Au commencement, through slinky Un serpent sans importance to the fractured L'enfer enfin. (Benjamin Biolay provided a form of secular response in 2005 with A l'origine.)
- 4. La notte, la notte, 1984 Unmissable for its Pierre et Gilles cover, Daho's second album features more of his most famous songs, including Sortir ce soir, Le grand sommeil and Week-end à Rome, retooled with St Etienne for He's On the Phone (1995). Other favourites include Si je m'en vais avant toi and Poppy Gene Tierney. Very poppy indeed.
- 5. Paris ailleurs, 1991 Non-native language speakers always love a good pun and Daho is no different, beginning with a 'day-o' chorus. This swaggering, confident album, recorded in New York with Edith Fambuena, gave rise to no fewer than five singles, among them opener Des attractions désastres (remixed by PM Dawn) and Comme un igloo (which features one of my favourite French words, farouche), while Toi + Moi and La berlue could have taken that number to seven. Splendid.
- 6. Mythomane, 1981 Daho's superb pop sense and flair for constructing perfect three-minute moments is immediately recognisable on his debut, which includes perennials L'ete and Mythomane. Even the rudimentary Va t'en and Encore cette chanson hint at more to come.
- 7. Réévolution, 2003 Back to the territory of Paris ailleurs, with a similar black-and-white portrait cover, Réévolution is notable for a couple of guest appearances from Charlotte Gainsbourg - for single If - and Marianne Faithfull, on Retour à toi, another single. The title track is another stand-out.
- 8. Corps et armes, 2000 I was initially underwhelmed by this layered entry in Daho's oeuvre but returned to it after Neil Tennant included track La baie on Pet Shop Boys' Back to Mine compilation (alongside Elgar and Biosphere!). Sure enough, numbers like Le brasier, L'année du dragon and San Antonia de la Luna repay dedication.
- 9. Le condamné a mort, 2010 The poems of Genet set to music by Hélène Martin in a calmer version of Hector Zazou's startling 1992 assault on Rimbaud, Sahara Blue, though it's still strong stuff. The album's released on Daho's Radical Pop Music label and is available on iTunes, which assumes music-buyers aren't interested in any form of additional information.
- 10. L'invitation, 2007 First single L'invitation makes for a terrific opener, although the songwriting is less immediate than usual for this reunion with Edith Fambuena. A form of counterpoint to the title track, La vie continuera is a heartfelt point to close - outstanding.