"Et ils tournent et ils dansent, Comme des soleils crachés, Dans le son déchiré, D’un accordéon rance."
Still little-known to the English-speaking world, Jacques Brel's cabaret-style character portraits and his intense, emotional vocal delivery have had an incalculable influence on ground-breaking artists such as Scott Walker, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Cave. One of the most distinctive aspects of Brel's work is his penchant for writing songs that lovingly, bitterly, and often satirically bump shoulders with the outcasts and "losers" of this world, whom we tend to push outside our field of vision in the false belief that we are somehow different. While Brel may poke fun at his characters, singing of their impotent resentments and sodden escapades, he never looks down on them. This, coupled with his singular voice (which he is said to have worked on tirelessly), established Brel as one of the most original singer-songwriters of the post-WWII period. Scott Walker has said that it was his discovery of Brel's work that inspired his early solo career, and clearly Walker's existential tales of despair owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brel. The crowning achievement of Brel's recorded oeuvre are his two "Olympia" concerts, the second of which, Olympia 64, begins with the first and only officially released version of "Amsterdam." This is brilliant and essential stuff that is quite unlike anything else you've heard, and it has long deserved a larger English-speaking audience.