May 24, 2005By Heidi EllisonWhat's New Art & Culture

Moody Murat

Jean-Louis Murat: too literary for commercial success? Photo: Jean-Louis Murat © EMI France/Labels

Jean-Louis Murat, a poet, singer, songwriter and musician with a dark side, has a hard core of fans in France, but has never been able to break through to real commercial success. Although he once threatened to retire because of it (his fans’ protests on the Internet convinced him not to), the prolific Murat keeps plugging away, often producing two albums in a year.

This spring saw the arrival of not only a new album, Moscow (written in Cyrillic as Mockba), but also two other works entitled 1451 and 1829. 1451, sold only through his Web site (, is a limited edition of one thousand books containing a poem with a thousand verses, illustrated by his own drawings. It comes with a DVD on which Murat reads part of the poem in a 38-minute performance piece, and a CD, on which he reads the second part.

The other project, 1829, is a CD containing Murat’s adaptations of 11 texts by Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780-1857), a poet and chansonnier with a rebellious bent. Three songs with lyrics by Béranger are also included on Moscow.

An admirer of Leonard Cohen (a 2004 album was called A Bird on a Poire, echoing the Cohen song “Bird on the Wire”), the 51-year-old Murat is, according to some French critics, living proof that the French know how to rock and roll, but only a couple of songs on Moscow can really be classified as rock. The catchiest numbers are duets with two currently popular female singers: “Ce que tu désires”, with Carla Bruni, the former model whose 2004 album, Quelqu’un M’a Dit, was a huge hit in France, and “L’amour et les États-Unis” with Camille (see “Music” for a review of her latest album). The first song on Moscow, “La Fille du Capitaine,” was inspired by Pushkin, whose letters led Murat to the work of Béranger.

Murat not only sings on the album, but also plays the guitar, mandolin, accordion, harmonica, piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer, vibraphone and flute.

As usual, the reviews of the new album have been laudatory, but it remains to be seen whether the brooding Murat will ever have the commercial success he seems to envy his les-talented colleagues. He may just be too literary for his own good.

Since the French love nothing better than a scruffy, unshaven troubadour (think of Serge Gainsbourg), maybe Murat will make it to the big time this time around.

Heidi Ellison

© 2005 Paris Update

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