First of all, let me apologise for burning your retinas with the... incredibly glamorous cover of Kate Ryan's latest album. The androgynous stripper stuck in an 80s time warp look isn't easy to pull off but the pride of Belgium almost manages to retain some of her dignity. Anyway, you're probably wondering why I decided to write about this trash in the first place. I'm not exactly Kate's biggest fan and her collection of French cover versions was released months ago. Well, there's a simple reason. I spent the weekend driving my French friends around Sydney and needed something appropriate to play in the car. After spending an eternity ripping Mylène Farmer and Lorie CDs, I remembered "French Connection" and thought I'd let the Belgian diva do all the work for me. Kate's relentless destruction of 80s pop classics went down a treat (every song was preceded with "c'est horrible... turn up the volume!") and I developed a whole new appreciation for one of the year's guiltiest pleasures.
"French Connection" collects the greatest French hits of the 80s and gives them a Hi-NRG overhaul for the new millennium. I'm sure fans of the original versions will be tempted to molest Kate with a stale baguette after listening to this but the majority of tracks were new to me and I loved being exposed to so many wonderful gems. A case in point is the album's biggest selling point, "Ella elle l'a". France Gall's original is actually a rather classy tribute to Ella Fitzgerald - not that you'd know it listening to Kate's trashtastic update. I love everything about this, from the cheesy Eurodance beats to the ridiculous bad CGI extravaganza doubling as a video clip. Unfortunately, the next song (another France Gall cover) isn't quite as successful. "Babacar" was released as a single in French speaking countries to promote the album but it's fucking awful and flopped just about everywhere. Kate's destruction of Mylène Farmer's iconic "Désenchantée" is also pretty fucking awful but it was a massive hit for her in 2002 and the 2009 remix deftly slides into so bad it's amazing territory. The Mylène covers keep on coming with "Libertine" (AKA the song about proudly being slut) but I actually rather like Kate's version and think it makes a nice addition to the "French Connection".
If I had to choose my favourite song on the album it would be "Évidemment" - hands down. Raping a France Gall classic for the third time in the space of five songs speaks volumes about Kate's complete lack of originality but the song is so perfect it weathers the Belgian's lacklustre vocals without so much as a dint in its beautiful armour. Make sure you also check out the fabulous 2N Remix, which transforms the ballad into a sublime slice of dance-pop. "Évidemment" (below) is the album's latest single and deserves to be a #87 smash hit in Poland. At the very least. Don't faint but the next song is actually a Kate Ryan original. "Mon cœur résiste encore" is the French language version of the diva's 2001 debut single "Scream For More". The original was cheap dance trash and it doesn't sound much better en français. Kate has considerably more success with "La Promesse", the French interpretation of her 2004 hit "The Promise You Made" (itself a cover version). I hate to say it but the 29 year old (in Lady GaGa years) should stick with ripping off other divas. For further proof check out the album's only other original - "Dans Tes Yeux", which first appeared on her 2008 album as "Your Eyes". Unfortunately, time hasn't made it any less shit.
One of the best things about "French Connection" is the exposure it gives to unknown/forgotten acts (outside France). If it wasn't for this trashy bunch of covers, I wouldn't know Jeanne Mas ever existed - let alone spent hours trawling Ebay to find more of her music. "Toute Première Fois" is an adorable 80s gem and Kate's version does the original justice. I love this and would have chosen it as a single over "Babacar" (if it hadn't already appeared on "Free"). The canny Belgian sniffs out another winner by covering Lio's lovely "Sage Comme Une Image" and ups the trash ante by revising Philippe Cataldo's camp "Les Divas Du Dancing". Someone really needs to initiate me into the magical world of French pop (circa 1985) because I think I'm hooked!
Kate briefly returns to the present by including "Caminaré", her stunning duet with Soraya. Spain's greatest living musical talent valiantly tries not to outshine her Belgian counterpart too severely but it's an impossible task for the Spanish legend. Soraya brings some much needed class, style and non-Botoxed beauty to the album, so Kate should be grateful. It was always going to be difficult to top that clash of the titans but "French Connection" fittingly ends with the diva's catchy cover of "Voyage Voyage" - a #1 hit for Desireless (the original La Roux!) in 1987. As usual, the Belgian's version falls short of the original but she deserves some credit for breathing new life into so many great songs. I used to joke that Kate was the continental Lisa Scott-Lee but after this opus I see her in a whole new light - as the Benelux September. There's nothing particularly creative or original about "French Connection" but it is hugely endearing and, all jokes aside, easily one of 2009's most enjoyable albums.