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Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday's French music break - Christophe Willem, "I will always love you"

Friday's French music break this week is a tribute of sorts with Christophe Willem tackling the late Whitney Houston's signature song, "I will always love you."

Christophe Willem (screenshot from Europe 1 performance)

Actually it's not an official single, but a version of the song Willem has performed several times in concert over the years.

Willem first shot to fame in France in 2006 during season four of the TV talent show Nouvelle Star (the equivalent in this country of Pop Idol).

When he auditioned in Toulouse he appeared to be the most unlikely of eventual winners, dressed as he was in the ugliest of stripey pullovers and an old pair of jeans, and with a posture that earned him the nickname of "La Tortue" (The Turtle) from Marianne James, one of the judges.

Christophe Willem - audition for Nouvelle Star (screenshot from video clip)

It was an epithet that was to stick with a title of the same name by French songwriter Philip Katerine appearing on Willem's first album.

With, in the words of André Manoukian, another of the judges, his "voice of a diva and excellent swing" Willem charmed the jury and public alike, turning in one startling performance after another as the weeks passed and topping the whole shebang off by winning, of course.

Fans had to wait the best part of a year before Willem released his excellent debut album "Inventaire" with tracks written by the likes of Katerine, Zazie and Olivier Schultheis, and there followed concert dates and TV appearances as Willem firmly established himself on the French music scene.

Since then, Willem has released two further studio albums, "Caféine" in 2009 and "Prismophonic" in 2011; in both cases his music has taken a distinct electro-pop music turn.

And that's a shame, because one of the 28-year-old's strengths is the purity and clarity he brings to acoustic versions of songs.

The excellent "Jacques a dit" from the "Inventaire" album is probably the best example, "I will always love you" which he performs in concert, is another.

But - and it's a massive but - in his rendition of the song written by Dolly Parton but made famous by Houston, Willem is walking the proverbial fine line of turning an already over-sentimental song into pure and simple schmaltz.

Arguably, Houston got away with it because of who she was, her voice and her star stature.

Willem, however good he is when performing simple piano and voice (and he is good) sounds like someone putting in a not-quite-as-good performance of a song that probably irritated and moved in equal proportions when sung by Houston, who had made it her own.

Anyway, take a listen - if you dare.

The Europe 1 version is an extract and thankfully lasts little over a minute.

If you're a real glutton for an aural drubbing, you can listen to the one of the live performances available on YouTube such as this one on television a couple of years ago.

Bon courage et bon week-end!

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