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Review by Brad Green:
A series of complications involving American and French relationships? Le Divorce? A direct quote perhaps from a negotiating table, draped at either end with the Tricolour and the Stars and Stripes, circa the onset of the Iraqi conflict? Well no, but it might well have been. All’s fair in love and war as they say, and the Americans and the French have considerably independent sensibilities in regards to both. It’s a perennial theme for story-telling, and however much has changed since Henry James’ insightful portraits of New World ingénues in Europe, it remains easy enough to pick Washington Square bluntness from Champs-Elysees insouciance. If the political gap has widened, the cultural lacuna hasn’t exactly narrowed. 

From a soundtrack perspective, the good news is that these kind of transatlantic relationship pieces are inevitably set with the Yanks in Paris rather than vice versa. When music has to be unmistakably French in order to set time and mood, it already has a lot going for it. As much as overblown Gallic pride in their language might grate, anyone with an ear for euphony must concede that its phonetics and inflections were designed to be sung. When supported by the customary instruments of French cafe society and the bal musette – the accordion, the fiddle and the rhythms of joie de vivre – romanticism finds its natural home. 

The first track here, a traditional chanson with a male vocal, glows with all these elements. The tune begins with the high, dry, warm notes of an unadulterated violin, quickly accompanied by a flirtatious acoustic guitar and then a jaunty ensemble. The only downside is that by the end of the 29-track CD this opener remains the highlight. There are tasty moments to come, but the album as a whole doesn’t quite realise the potential suggested by its entrée. 

The majority of the soundtrack comprises a score by Richard Robbins, and it does suffer from periodic longueurs. Mainly these occur when ambience replaces bittersweet tunefulness. New Age from an American composer tapping the milieu of the Old World can still induce the Bo Peeps; and the cues of blithely wandering strings with tinkling bells and pianos don’t offer much more than a languid drone to doze off to. 

More enlivening are a variety of songs that range from a composition by 17th century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier to a slo-mo Serge Gainsborough swing with a staccato backbeat and surfeit of cymbals; and every time the score invites in the accordions and coquettish guitar runs it again becomes delightfully spirited. In particular, the penultimate track, a 30-second vignette of rhythm guitar and frolicsome accordion is an absolute joy. Disappointingly it is followed by an energetic but banal closer in English. The contrast with the wonderful opener is obvious, and begs the question is it possible for a song with a lyric in a language you don’t speak to communicate more intensely than one in your mother tongue. The answer is: Oui. 

Published December 4, 2003

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TITLE: Le Divorce
SCORE: Richard Robbins
ARTISTS: Patrick Bruel; Johnny Hallyday; Alan Ewing; Serge Gainsborough; Carla Bruni; Les Elles

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