Kaya - Bonjour! Chanson

review - 03.03.2009 12:00

The flamboyant singer invites us on a trip to Paris.

According to Kaya, French songs, or chansons, are considered "difficult, heavy and dark," and therefore they are not popular in Japan. So, as part of his ongoing quest to abolish prejudice, Kaya wants to challenge this image with a collection of mostly light hearted, easy-to-listen to chansons, performed in Japanese and using a new, cute singing style. Does the experiment succeed?

True to its theme "let's go for a walk with Kaya♪," the album opens with a music box playing a few notes from La Vie en Rose and then launches into Aux Champs Elysées. Written in 1969 by Mike Wilsh and Mike Deighan for American born Joe Dassin, this well-known song pays homage to the most famous street in Paris, its leisurely rhythm and light-hearted melody imitating a pleasant stroll. Kaya's version, featuring piano, accordion and a string quartet, is much more elaborate and "French" than the original with its understated acoustic guitar, percussion and trumpet, but just as evocative. His voice is quite a bit higher than normal here, which takes some getting used to.

C'est si bon is another famous chanson. Written by Henri Betti and Andre Hornez, it was popularized by Yves Montand in the 1940's and became an international hit for Eartha Kitt in 1953. Kaya gives this sensual tune a jazzy, 1960's feel with piano, saxophone and vibraphone. Again, his voice is slightly higher than normal, adding to the overall smoothness of the song.

Je te veux is a more unusual choice. Written in 1902 by Erik Satie, this slow waltz is much older and less well-known than the other songs on the album. Kaya has given it a historic feel with a barrel organ and an oddly muffled sound, as if it were an old gramophone recording. The idea is certainly original, but it is spoiled by Kaya's cutesy little girl voice, which is similar to the ~Sweet version~ of Chocolat. The admittedly cute decision to include the voices of the three cats present in the studio during recording doesn't help either: they sound more like ducks than cats.

The mood of the album changes completely with Padam Padam. Again, it is not an obvious choice, although it is certainly well known among chanson enthusiasts. Written for Edith Piaf in 1951 by Norbert Glanzberg and Henri Conter, it tells of a melody she cannot forget because it reminds her of her past loves. This is another slow waltz, but much more dramatic than Je te Veux. Kaya refers to it as having a role "similar to salt in sweet red bean soup," and it certainly adds spice to this otherwise perhaps overly sweet album. Again, the music is very "French" with piano, accordion and clarinet, and for once Kaya uses his usual rich, strong voice, infusing the song with the passion it needs to come to life. Whether you're a Kaya fan or a fan of chansons, it is worth buying the album just for this song.

Of course, no collection of chansons would be complete without La Vie en Rose (Barairo no jinsei), another one of Edith Piaf's signature songs, written by Piaf herself and set to music by Louis Guglielmi. Kaya sings it with the soft, dreamy voice of someone who has returned home from a date and now lies in bed thinking back on a happy day. The backdrop features more piano, accordion and strings, and is rounded off with a discrete jazz/disco rhythm. Finally, the album comes full circle with the music box playing the last few notes of the song.

So what's the verdict? Bonjour! Chanson is a very enjoyable album. The music is arranged and performed beautifully, and Kaya has clearly put a lot of thought into bringing out the emotions within each song. It could have been even better though, if he weren't so concerned with sounding cute. The new singing style doesn't add much, since the songs he has chosen aren't "difficult, heavy and dark" anyway, but he risks sounding over the top, like in Je te Veux. That said, with this album he proves once again that he is a strong and versatile performer who can pull off even emotionally complex songs like Padam Padam. Hopefully, he will continue to explore this genre further. There's a whole new world out there waiting for him.
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