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Jane Birkin
Enfants D'hiver Jeremy Allen , December 4th, 2008 13:48

Jane Birkin - Enfants D'hiver

Jane Birkin once complained that all the British press ever seemed to ask her was 'what dirty records have you made Jane?'. Considering that Birkin is a woman whose career as a recording artist and actress has spanned nearly 40 years, the question displays a staggering, yet depressingly unsurprising, lack of originality or tact by our media. While much loved in her adopted France, the British have always looked upon her as some gamine curio and Franglais fancy, whose major contribution to the world was stirring up prurient thoughts for uncontructed Anglo-Saxon oafs by soundtracking the insemination of a generation on 'J'taime... mon non plus'.

There are no dirty songs to be found on Enfants D'hiver, if my dubious grasp of French can be relied upon. Forever immortalised in the minds of most as the waif with that delectable toothy pout, it seems inconceivable that Birkin is in her early 60s. And here is a record that revels in childhood memories, yet is tinged with sadness at the inevitable passing of time and the aging process. This is especially true of 'Madame', a pretty waltz where Birkin laments the heartbreak of being referred to as "Madame" by strangers in the street. While a respectful term across the Channel, it is reserved for those knocking on a bit, and that feeling of sadness and surprise is conveyed honestly with a daring, fragile whispered tune. Anyone who has offered their seat on the bus to somebody who hasn't started drawing their pension and witnessed the sadness in the person's eyes will get the pathos.

Remarkably, this record is Birkin's first real foray into writing her own songs. Though having been one half of an era-defining relationship with the genius Serge Gainsbourg, and married to John Barry before that, a lack of confidence in the area of composition could be expected. Listening to the results, it's a shame she kept putting it off.

For an artist who has been so bold and yet has always been something of an outsider (ignored on these shores, though she still sings with a conspicuous English accent), the record is fittingly awkward in places, but always seductively listenable. It's a cathartic exercise, but Birkin's story is such an interesting one that it is an entirely inclusive one as well, even when sung almost entirely in French. If you do happen to be nodding off then 'Aung San Suu Kyii' will be a shock to the system. An ode to the committed campaigner for Amnesty International, the song drives home its message in English a thousand times more effectively than Annie Lennox or Chris Martin clicking their fingers.

Enfants D'hiver is a worthwhile and delightful addition to Birkin's already distinguished career. Like Serge's other chum Marianne Faithful, Jane Birkin ought to be a national treasure; it's just a shame most English people don't realise it. Their loss.

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