The much anticipated and absolutely divine album from the supreme goddess that is Frances Ruffelle is here!
Recorded across 3 days, using old 60’s equipment in a windowless basement of a converted brothel in East London, ‘I Say Yeh-Yeh’ is an undeniable triumph, hitting all the hot notes as it breezes along. It is an album that has varying shades, textures and styles – it is like an audible painting in the way that it conveys truth and beauty in life. The sound proffered is deviously sly as it juxtaposes lively, care-free and upbeat sounds with lyrical tales of heartbreak, despair and longing. The result is an album which is fresh and exciting – there is a infectious, urgent and vibrant quality to the recordings, the essence connected to its creative processes and surroundings is evident throughout.
Without doubt, Frances delivers some of her finest vocal performances to date, which is certainly saying something given her formidable repertoire. Here, her vocal swoops and soars with ferocity and tenderness in equal measure. It is a display of mastery at work, and is both a treat and a delight to hear such genuine musical genius at work.
Frances has always been a tremendous interpreter of songs and has a keen ear for the unusual or oft overlooked songs at her disposal. Alongside, producer Gwyneth Herbert the pair have mapped out arrangements that are memorable, precise and brimming with life – their creative partnership thrives and excels. Notably, an exceptional success is where the English and French languages are married which adds depth and potency to the recordings. When Frances blends, switches and interchanges between the two languages, it is effortless and arresting. A number of songs are entirely in French yet the meaning through vocal interpretation and production techniques is clearly communicated and understood which proves to be an effective, artful skill.
In the main, the motif of the record deals with love that is lost, the sorrow, desperation and torment that this can bring. The album opens with ‘L’Un Vers L’Autre’ (The One To The Other), which was originally, a poignant ballad performed by the character of Éponine in Les Misérable before it was cut and replaced with ‘On My Own’, (which incidentally closes this record). The sense of longing and fragility in tone mirrors its more famous counterpart rather beautifully.
Three Édith Piaf songs are included here. ‘La Foule’ (The Crowd) is a rousing, lingering piece. Those who have seen Frances’ show ‘Paris Original’ or Frances as the lead role in ‘Piaf’ will unequivocally attest. Sung entirely in French, the rhythm and pace mimic the ebb and flow of a bustling crowd – the notion that love can be snatched away in an instant is crystal clear. The vocal on the torch song ’Hymne À L’Amour’, is altogether devastating especially when Frances sings the lines ‘you can set me any task, I’ll do anything you ask, if you’ll only love me still’. On ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’, the primary French version is united with an English translation which imbues a haunting, lasting raid on the emotions, ‘the memories that I have, I no longer desire…’
The theme of love lost is expressed further during the Françoise Hardy song ‘À Quoi Ça Sert’. Unable to find a satisfactory English translation, Frances wrote her own vision to match the original sentiment, and the result depicts a bereft situation but one that is optimistic – the English lyric is timeless and enduring – the way in which she has captured the end of a love affair, full of regrettable certainty, tinged with a forlorn air is compelling, ‘All alone, I will be free again, on my own, I’ll be just me again. Pourqoi? C’est la vie, I will be free again, maybe lonely but I’ll be me again’. Heart-stopping stuff. If that isn’t enough, Frances will then rip your heart straight from your chest as she sings; ‘I loved him, I lived him, I lost him’.
The song isn’t as gloomy as we’ve possibly described, there is a sultry, flirty tone within the lyric which references ‘girls in black push-up bras, flashy guys with cigars’ and during the final refrain ‘take the moon and the stars, take your pack of Gauloises, take the flat, take your friends, take the Mercedes Benz… Frances cheekily announces, ‘actually i’m keeping that’. Gorgeous.
The vocal capture from Frances when combined with production flourishes from Gwyneth create expressive, picturesque soundscapes, most notably during ‘Paris Is A Lonely Town / Lonely Night In Paris’ – where the lyric, melody and delivery combine to evoke the sense that there chill in the air and of feeling alone despite being in a bustling metropolis – it cleverly paints the story through song.
Elsewhere, collaborations are extremely well chosen. ‘Yeh, Yeh / Ça Pourrait Changer’ is a duet with Gwyneth Herbert and it is a riotous joy – there is great energy, the giggles capture the fun and spirit of the recording session – it is trés chic and awash with sass. Alongside, Rowan John, the lead single ‘Paris Summer’ is a brooding tale of intrigue and provides the best matched vocal pairings since Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads era. The presentation of ‘Bang Bang’ is certainly the finest, most visionary interpretation of the well known Sonny Bono penned track – it exposes the darkness of the lyric and marries it with a French verse with deadly results. Young niece, Coral adds additional vocals.
As mentioned, the record closes with an updated version ‘On My Own’ from Les Misérables, (which incidentally celebrates its 30th year this week). The vocal on the track is exquisitely unreal – naturally, this is showstopping magnificence.
Without doubt, ’I Say Yeh-Yeh’ is a boundless, effusive piece of heaven. It shows a woman who is fearless in vision, determined in actualising her art and one who continues to embrace her limitless creative possibilities. Frances has lived these songs to some degree, the emotional connection that she shares and in turn conveys with the listener is majestic and sumptuously wondrous to behold. ‘I Say Yeh-Yeh’ is certain to make your heart swell and therefore, it is essential, vital even that you embrace and cherish this masterpiece.
From Tuesday, Frances will celebrate the release of the album, with a week long residency at Crazy Coqs in central London. Tickets are available here.