In 2009, you couldn’t avoid hearing Béatrice Martin in France. She was everywhere, and rightfully so. The tattooed piano player with a voice as sweet only Haribo or Willy Wonka could ever craft took the country as well as Canada with her pop songs firmly rooted in songwriter territory. These wasn’t the kind of pop you’d hear on the radio (although you did), but something far more intimate and thoughtful. Songs that led her to hit #2 on the French charts as well as led to numerous awards back in 2008/2009. Since then, she landed in a relationship with Jay Malinowski of Beaudouin Soundclash, which has been fruitful in giving us the indie pop duo Armistice. There, we saw Coeur de Pirate join Jay and sing in English. Coeur de Pirate took a brief rest from the stardom that found her, but is now back in full French force with her sophomore album, Blonde.
Decidedly you run the risk of your sound changing when popularity and awards start rolling in. I’m always confused as to why people decide to change formulas to accommodate those who are-effectively-jumping on the bandwagon. Arcade Fire, thankfully, didn’t while everyone was still asking who they were. Some artists stay true, some shed their skin and evolve into something else, some-like Coeur de Pirate-adds another variable into the mix to stay relatively close while showing development. For Béatrice, she’s taken the intimate piano-pop and twisted it back in time to somewhere between 1957 and the mid ’60s.
“Danse et danse” is the first telling sign of the change. “Tu dis que ‘I’m you’re only one'” is the deciding moment. The sound isn’t overwhelmingly sugary or corny, à la The Chordettes, but teeters more towards an authentic sock hop the moment just before the leather jackets and poodle skirts gave way to Marty McFly’s time traveling rock. “Danse et danse” emphasizes a early rock drums and bass early on, drawing away from the bright guitar and tambourine as her voice echoes into the hallways. The bridge between 2008 and 2011 Coeur de Pirate is “Les amours dévouées” with its mélange of her self-titled album’s exuberant yet anxious restraint in her voice mixed with the decidedly country-influenced “Rickenbacker” guitar. The progression works, and fits, even if it stumbles a bit with the waltzy “Ava”-purely because the simple, uptempo piano pounds are overpowered by the emotion behind Béatrice’s singing and the horns in the chorus. “Verseau” all the while channels black and white broadcasted California surf pop.
What about the rest? We get self-titled Coeur de Pirate particularly in “Adieu”, “Place de la République”, “Cap Diamant” and “La petite mort”. “Adieu”, the lead single, would fit nicely on her debut with lyrics dealing with disillusion and dissolving relationships “Crois-tu pouvoir enfin me dire que tu veux bien qu’on reste amis…” However “Place de la République” better captures that essence that attracted everyone. Slow, determined, sullen piano that wavers between sweet and sunken emotions (now if only Manchester Orchestra had HER on piano for “Simple Math“). The real surprise, and quite welcome, is the addition of male supporting vocals from Sam Roberts on “Loin d’ici”.
The song is decidedly country with its slide guitar and swaying acoustic guitar on one side and stunted electric strums on the other. It’s disorientating at first, leaving me at least confused as if it was an Armistice track en français, but once Sam Roberts comes in, the world realigns itself and all is far better than before. The duo, who sing a verse together, complement each other so very well with a softness coupled with a rough, dusty gruffness. It works extremely well on Blonde-subtle and distracting in the best way imaginable.
If you’re looking for debut album number two, Blonde is about as close as you’ll get from Coeur de Pirate in her still very young musical career. While I would much rather have had more emphasis on her extraordinary piano playing, her voice is still there and hits those right notes in the right spots often enough that it’s permissible this time around. However, I surely hope on her third release she embraces that instrumental talent more and it isn’t tossed aside for pure pop. Coeur de Pirate has a lot of talent, more so than shown.