A recent article in the Grauniad collated readers' top literary songs. But writing one song that mentions, say, Thomas Hardy or Brendan Behan isn't really a stretch IMHO. Sustaining a literary theme over a whole album, though, is a talent that eludes most artistes.
Luckily Hector Zazou succeeded where Rick Wakeman and countless others have flunked. His Sahara Blue, released in 1992, is an eclectic take on the poetry of Rimbaud featuring an extremely diverse array of collaborators, including celebrity gourmand Gerard Depardieu, and Richard Bohringer, arguably best known for his role in Diva.
As well as roping in French acting talent , Zazou (crazy name, crazy guy!) also persuaded Barbara Gogan of The Passions, John Cale, David Sylvian (appearing pseudonymously as "Mr. X" on the European release, presumably due to contractual problems) , Anneli Drecker, Sussan Deyhim, Khaled and others to contribute vocal interpretations of Rimbaud's ramblings. A similarly starry corps of artists provide the backing music, which ranges from plangent guitar noodlings to Middle Eastern pop, via downtempo proto-trip-hop. Most of the 12 tracks, though, could be played at your next dinner party without making anyone spit out their soup; they're engaging and quirky without being overt.
The first track on the album, I'll Strangle You, is the exception. An all-out stomper, it's Rimbaud goes disco (discaud?). Even in their most absinthe-addled moments, Verlaine and Mallarme must surely never have imagined that at the turn of the 20th century their nihilistic buddy would be sharing a track with ex-members of the Sugarhill Gang (i.e. Keith LeBlanc), Bomb The Bass (Tim Simenon) and Bill Laswell (yes, him again). A Season In Hell for poetry purists, perhaps, but a post-modern heaven for the rest of us, it features M. Depardieu and Anneli Drecker sharing vocal duties.
Hunger is a moody Gallic take on Rimbaud's Delires with vocals courtesy of John Cale, while the album's closer, Lettre au Directeur... features Sussan Deyhim ululating "like Yoko Ono with PMT" (as a friend so charmingly put it once upon a time), bookended by Bohringer (in French) and Sylvian (in English). You may need to dust down your French GCSE before downloading these. Hey, who said this blog wasn't educational?
Download I'll Strangle You
Download Lettre Au Directeur des Messageries Maritimes (all deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)
Buy Sahara Blue
Bitter & Sealed
14 hours ago