"The French Song" by Shanghai Hostage

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"The French Song" by Shanghai Hostage

Review

If you've caught Shanghai Hostage live, you may well have heard them perform a song whose lyrics are in French. It might even have been presented to you with an advisory warning for the risqué nature of those words.

Now the band have plucked up the necessary hardiesse to release it, however vilain it might be.  And have come up with the highly appropriate title of "The French Song" for it. It's out on Vendredi.

In fact lots of the words, though French and so inherently a bit effronté by their very nature, are reasonably innocuous & you can play them in front of a family audience (they have even very kindly translated all but the most choquant for you in subtitles on the superb video). As for the phrases they skip over, all I can say is that they seem to refer to intimate acts which are presumably prevalent in France & which no self respecting English person could conceive of, let alone contemplate performing.

The first Hostage release with their new drummer Zeke (who is also in Slowbro and The Rollocks) and recorded at Moonbase Studios with John Webb of The Moonbears producing, as ever with the band, the song works its magic on a variety of levels (especially when you also factor in the customarily top notch visuals courtesy of Diana Stefanescu of Dikira Media).

The central premise is that English is a pretty tame language, especially for l'amour, and therefore the singer is using French to express herself. Which is a reasonable point. If you delve down another level, you might discern that the actual French contains a variety of "standard" expressions mixed in with slang: it's not actually that sophisticated at all, yet the way Sophie delivers it, it sounds as cool and chic as anything from the classic chanson canon of say Piaf, Gréco,Trenet or Chevalier.  So there is a subtle joke going on around the expectations of Anglophones towards the French language. (Another irony of course is that these chanson singers were predominantly singing live to working class audiences who would certainly have got, and appreciated, the earthier French as deployed here). The band cite Serge Gainsbourg as an inspiration & it's easy to comprehend that: not just the sexual theme, but using the language of the street & the subversion of the image of French cool with humour.

As so often with Shanghai Hostage, it may be a little langue dans la joue at one level, yet it makes a serious point about assumptions & prejudices between cultures in a very unthreatening way: indicating that gaps in comprehension need not automatically lead to friction & hostility (hang on until the last line for a great little joke about translation). This is emphasised by the fun that they are clearly having with the song: you could easily listen to an entire Shanghai Hostage set and simply enjoy the bonhomie and bons esprits of the band which infects their audiences: though in so doing you'd be missing much as their songs all make very well thought out & valid points about the world in which we live. The music, reasonably, nods in the direction of France without departing completely from the traditional Shanghai Hostage groove: I liked the occasional touches of clarinet & accordion. Ian has even performed an impromtu instrumental version in France itself.

The video, as I say, adds emphasis and in many ways it's probably best to take the two together: you simply get more out of the song that way. Alternating between the vivid colours of say the films of Jacques Demy and moody black & white à la manière de la nouvelle vague, Sophie smoulders in an existential way and is clearly channelling Juliette Gréco visually as well as musically (though she isn't quite as good with a cigarette). The others (Beth, Ian, Richard & Zeke) look & act suitably Gallic for the camera & eventually start smacking each other with brie & baguettes when the urge to behave in an artificially cool manner simply gets too much….. in fact the video is a send up of expectations of French films to complement how the song is aiming for an equivalency.

It'll make you smile. It can make you think. It ought to make you dance. You could even faire l'amour to it.  If anyone is offended, then I say "À la lanterne!"

Otherwise, Vive L'otage de Shanghai!

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