Do a Google search for Carla Bruni and the first site returned is AskMen.com, where a profile describes “one of the world’s most photographed models, and one of the most financially successful,” before slinking off to the inevitable gossip of Bruni’s erstwhile liaisons with Mick Jagger (it was she who supposedly caused the chiseled rocker’s wife to dump him), Eric Clapton and the nauseatingly ubiquitous Donald Trump.
All of that hoo-hah would provide ample reason for a great big yawn had the same Ms. Bruni not released one of the year’s most heavenly, refreshingly unadorned albums in Quelqu’un M’a Dit (Somebody Told Me) (Naïve/V2 Records). Clearly, Bruni is a big deal on her way to becoming an even bigger deal. In France, where Bruni’s lived since age seven—heiress to a tire-manufacturing fortune, she was born in Turin, Italy in 1968—the record’s sold over a million copies, and it’s notched gold and platinum in other European locales. In the U.S., where she’s still comparatively unknown, the Barnes & Noble chain signed on as the exclusive retail distributor of Quelqu’un M’a Dit.
Bruni’s understated, largely acoustic voicings of mostly self-penned material at first bring to mind that other icon of breathy French femme-pop, Françoise Hardy, albeit shaped by more contemporary sensibilities. The gentle touch of Brazil’s Astrud Gilberto is also suggested.
It’s not a lark, this album, not a superstar slumming: Bruni’s been working toward it since, well, probably since she first picked up a guitar at seven and began soaking up a sweep of sounds ranging from the Stones and Dylan to Ella Fitzgerald, the Velvet Underground (she claims to have listened to nothing but the Lou Reed-led New York ’60s band for five years, and one hears some Nico in her style) to Chopin, Serge Gainsbourg, the Clash, Muddy Waters, onward. Songwriting came later, but it wasn’t until the modeling business began to leave her cold that Bruni got serious and recruited producer Louis Bertignac to assist her in crafting an album that would reflect something more organic and honest than she’d experienced in the cutthroat fashion industry.
Bruni acknowledges that Quelqu’un M’a Dit is “very French,” but she views it in the greater picture as a folk record, and that’s as accurate a tag as any. Its storytelling is personal yet universal, and Bruni’s melodies emit a déjà vu quality—been there before but not unhappy to return.
Carla Bruni once told an interviewer that achievement is like a sneeze; there is no satisfaction until it’s over. Did someone say ah-choo?