- Françoise Hardy : A New Millenium
The new millennium brought it with it Clair-Obscur, a new album from Mademoiselle Hardy.
Hardy herself tells an amusing anecdote about the title track. It goes back
ten years, long before she recorded the song. The guitarist Khalil
Chahine had asked her to write him some lyrics to go with “a very
beautiful tune he had written that inspired him so much that he wrote it in
less than a week”. When he came to listen to the result, she expected
him to be as happy as she was. Sadly, this was not the case: he couldn’t
bear the word ‘amour’. “It was imperative that I should remove it from any
phrases it figured in, he told me bluntly. Unluckily, my text was registered,
so he couldn’t modify it in any way.” (Le Désespoir De Singes... Et Autres
As a result, Clair-Obscur remained in a drawer, not least because Hardy couldn’t record it easily, as it required a vocal range that she did not have. And Chanine didn’t want to record it.
Another track with a real story to it is La Vérité Des Choses. The lyrics of the song accidentally landed on the desk of Sylvie Vartan’s producer. The blonde star had been crying out for years that Hardy should write her a song and here was one. Fortunately, Hardy was able to record it without angering her 1960s peer who she admired.
Two duets proved further highlights of the album. The first was with fellow 1960s survivor Iggy Pop, who had been put back on his feet by David Bowie. The duet was called I’ll Be Seeing You. The other was with her friend Étienne Daho on a cover of an old song by the Everly Brothers, So Sad.
The opening number was another duet – this time with Jacques Dutronc, on Puisque Vous Partez En Voyage. The song was a cracking take on an old number by Jean Nohain and Mireille.
The album was a huge success. It went gold and won Best Album of the Year at the Victoires de la Musique awards in 2001.
At the time, other well-known artists were resorting to recycling old French songs from the inter-war years. Patrick Bruel went so far as to issue a double-CD of revisited golden oldies, of which Ah Si Vous Connaissiez Ma Poule was a definite talking point. Hardy toyed with the idea of doing something similar, but – mercifully – stopped short with a take on Charles Trénet’s Que Reste-t-il De Nos Amours? on her next album.
The sales of Hardy’s two albums at Virgin – 40,000 of Le Danger and 130,000 of Clair-Obscur – confirmed her place among France’s top stars. (Bosses at her label decided to capitalise on her popularity by reissuing her albums from the period 1967 to 1972. These albums had become rare, which meant that fans found it hard to lay their hands on copies.) The album Tant De Belles Choses was issued in 2004. At a time when people weren’t buying records, Hardy managed to shift 100,000 copies.
As ever, the album included a mix of collaborators, including Jacno (real name: Denis Quilliard), an artist who had found success in the late 1970s and 1980s. He wrote the music for and produced the track Un Air De Guitare, while Hardy provided the lyrics. Coupled with Pourquoi Vous?, the track was issued on a limited-edition picture disc. Just 500 copies were issued in April 2013 to mark the 13th Record Store Day.
Hardy was rewarded for the album with the Female Artist of the Year trophy at the Victoires de la Musique awards in 2005.
In November 2006, Hardy was honoured by the Académie Française, in recognition of her having gone beyond being a pop idol to being instead an icon of French music.
The award coincided with the release of Parenthèses, an album of remakes of old hits – her own and other people’s – all recorded as duets.
Her singing partners were an illustrious group, including Maurane, Julio Iglesias, Henri Salvador, Alain Souchon, Alain Bashung, Arthur H, Ben Christophers and Benjamin Biolay. Perhaps one of the more surprising names among these was Alain Delon.
The album was later certified platinum for sales of 200,000.
If you discount re-releases and best-of compilations, 2010’s La Pluie Sans Parapluie officially became Hardy’s 26th album. For her, it was also one of the hardest to record. Originally intended to be made in New York, the sessions ultimately took place in various studios in Paris.
It proved a success, selling well – although only about half as many as Clair-Obscur.
L’Amour Fou was issued to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the release of Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles. “Anniversaries have never been my cup of tea, but to publish an album that represents me more than the others at the same time as the narrative of history... that will have inspired most of my texts, is my way of marking the moment.” (Album press pack)
At just 37 minutes long, the album suggests that Hardy was tired, especially when you consider that a CD can last at least twice that length of time. The orchestration, however, warmed Hardy’s very soul, perhaps more than had happened in over 40 years. “Piano and strings is the combination I prefer, but I never thought I could make a whole album like that. Nor to have so many real strings – that has not happened to me since the 1970s.”
If Hardy had been destined to write just one song in her life, L’Amour Fou would have been it. This opening track of the album was simply sublime.
For fans hoping that this meant Hardy was back at the top of her game and that plenty more was to follow, the closing track must have come as a huge blow: "End of the final act. I have to leave even if I keep an impression of it being unfinished ... Excuse me if I leave on the sly and without notice. The play is finished... We want to believe that we will find ourselves in another life and that we will try to do better, much better ... and love each other much better.” (Lyrics from Rendez-vous Dans Une Autre Vie).
What fans didn’t know at the time was that Hardy was suffering with lymphoma. In fact, the cancer had been diagnosed some eight years earlier and her health steadily began to decline.
Hardy was placed in a coma in 2016, after suffering complications as a result of a fall. Her weight had fallen to 39 kilos and she simply didn’t have the strength to get better. What’s more, she had lost the will to.
Doctors alerted her son, Thomas, that the end was drawing near. There was a chance, however, that a different treatment could save her, they argued. Thomas agreed to it readily.
Hardy responded well to the new round of chemotherapy – perhaps too well, in her own view. She later admitted to having mixed feelings about her recovery. “I regretted waking up because I almost had the death I was dreaming about. So the question I asked myself when I woke up was: ‘Why this reprieve?’” (Le Divan, France 3, 16 February 2016).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, mortality proved a theme among the songs that emerged when Hardy next went into the studio.
The resultant album, Personne D’Autre, was issued in April 2018. It came just a few months after the deaths of her erstwhile contemporaries Johnny Hallyday and France Gall, and its melancholic tone seemed somehow appropriate.
Sales proved strong, and the album soon reached number two in the French charts.
For it, Hardy had teamed up with Eric Benzi, a former composer for Céline Dion. Her words brought his melodies to life. Their combined efforts included the opening track, A Cache-Cache, and a nostalgic, if faintly saccharine, tribute to her ex-husband, Jacques Dutronc, entitled Train Spécial.
Although Hardy wrote the words for eight of the 12 tracks on the album, it is the songs penned by others that have largely received the most attention. Among them are Michel Berger’s Seras-Tu Là and a melodramatic take on Finnish band Poets of the Fall’s Sleep, retitled Dors Mon Ange.
Indeed, Le Large, became the first song to be issued from the album and one of its standout tracks. The words and music were from La Grande Sophie, a.k.a. Sophie Huriaux, a singer-songwriter who had enjoyed success in the 2000s. The pair had been in touch and Hardy found a version of the song in her in-box one morning.
Hardy felt no compunction about accepting the song. Indeed, she argued that she had perhaps given all that she had to give as a writer. “There comes a time when the little vein deep inside is exhausted.” (Tele Star, 16 April 2018).
With that, fans were left to conclude that the singer considered the album an epilogue to her 57-year-long career. If that is so, it is a collection she can be proud of. It has weight and charm, and her vocals reveal a sense of determination.
Personne D’Autre makes for a fitting end to the work of