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We thought we knew Lou Doillon, but there was more to her. As she says in all simplicity, “I had every reason in the world not to go into music.” So throughout her career as a young actress and international model, the daughter of Jacques Doillon and Jane Birkin was holding back a part of herself: the singer.
ICU, her first single released in the spring, was a revelation. Its haunting vocals, compelling melody and twilight ambience held the immediate promise of a bright future. The impression was confirmed by her first EP, released just before the summer.
Lou had secretly been playing guitar and writing songs in English - her “private language” - for years. Without the presence of Étienne Daho, an insatiable music-lover and fond tutor, she would probably never have made the leap into the unknown. So the release of her first album, Places, has come as a relief for Lou Doillon and marks the start of her new career. Its title is a double reference: to the place she can now take on the musical chessboard, and to her personal journey.
“Before, Lou was between two worlds - fashion and movies. With this album, I think she’s finally found her world,” elegantly observes Zdar, the man with the silver hands (Phoenix, The Rapture, Beastie Boys, Cat Power, etc.) who mixed the record in his Paris studio. “There was a kind of lunar conjunction between Étienne Daho and Lou Doillon,” he adds, summing up the amazing, improbable album. As we listen, we are reminded of great artists past and present: Karen Dalton, Joni Mitchell, Feist and others. “Lou seems more of a soul than a rock singer to me”, says Daho, whose production and dazzling arrangements on Places are his finest yet.
After ICU, the opening track, Devil Or Angel is a ballad sung by a woman freed at last, summoning up Velvets-loaded memories. The song is an immediate classic, no less. In the space of just two tracks, Lou Doillon imposes her unique voice and timbre, and that is just the start. Describing days of melancholy passing at the pace of a drum roll, One Day After Another is reminiscent of Patti Smith’s narrative art, while Make A Sound’s pop immediacy holds a reference to its writer’s “leaded wings”. Much like Cat Power, Lou Doillon is equally at home with an acoustic range (the iridescent clearing in the middle of the album: Same Old Game) and brass-backed soul (Jealousy and Questions And Answers - two visas for Memphis). These livelier tunes also heighten the depth of her startlingly flexible voice. To conclude, two songs - Places, the album’s title track, and Real Smart - open up whole new perspectives. The record reaches its climax as Lou Doillon’s sonorous voice provides the perfect foil for the trembling majesty of a children’s choir.
The strongly autobiographical lyrics reveal years of transience, a troubled personality (“They’re laments that are mainly to do with survival”) and a rebellious nature (Defiant, as one title stresses). “I cope with my great weakness as a woman, and to do so, I insist on a masculine approach. In fact, the whole album is dedicated to men”. Tracks such as Same Old Game have a cathartic value for the singer, who is fascinated by the writing of Leonard Cohen and Lhasa’s work.
We thought we knew her, but in just forty minutes, Lou Doillon turns things upside down. With her thirtieth birthday approaching, she has metamorphosed into a matchless singer-songwriter.