Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Zany Belgian Punk In Pink

The 70s, like any other decade, had more than its share of quirky, well let’s just say plain out there acts, and Plastic Bertrand rates as way, way out there.

Plastic Bertrand was the alias of Belgian musician Roger Jouret. Having played in bands since childhood, and then studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussells, Jouret began his professional career as singer/drummer for Belgian punk trio Hubble Bubble. It was a short tenure as their one and only album flopped and they disbanded soon after. Jouret then met producer/songwriter Lou Deprijck and they set about recording an album. Jouret was a punk wild child in every sense but he had kind of a new romantic edge to his style, which in 1978 put him ahead of the pack, just. The song that would catch the attention of the world for Plastic Bertrand was ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, a French title that translates to ‘This Life’s For Me’ or ‘It’s Fine With Me’ or somewhere in between depending on what you read. If there are any experts in the French language out there that can offer a view please feel free. It was rumoured that the vocals on the track were actually performed by Lou Deprijck due to Bertrand (Jouret) not making it to the studio in time for the recording session - this is a rumour that whether true or not I’d prefer to dismiss as it just takes the magic out of the whole deal.
‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ does have a frenetic grungy guitar line throughout but essentially it’s more new wave than straight punk rock. Clocking in at less than three minutes it offers considerable bang for its buck. Packed with nonsensical French lyrics (apparently) that just sound great to sing phonetically, and featuring the coolest high pitched ‘oooowooohoooowoooo’ that you’ll ever hear, the song is an absolute gas. Musically it features about as many chords as a Ramones song - in fact I think it would be right at home in a Ramones songbook. But almost as memorable, if not more, as the song itself was the promotional video clip. I recall seeing it on Countdown when I guess I was about 9 or 10, and just thinking this is so freakin’ cool! I mean here’s this spiky haired dude, who looks as hyped up as someone who’s knocked back a dozen espresso’s, wearing a pink leather jacket, dancing and jumping around in front of a blue screen (which featured a dazzling psychedelic effects show) and singing a French punk song. How could ABBA or the Doobie Brothers compete with that? Now I know where Adam Ant got his inspiration!

‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ was a worldwide hit in anyone’s language. It reached #8 in the U.K. in mid ‘78 and even cracked the U.S. Top 50 (#47) around the same time - no mean feat considering how disco dominated the U.S. charts were at that time. But it would be Australia that would fall in love with the little Belgian punk in pink the most, sending the song to #2 early in 1979 (it would spend a colossal 26 weeks on the Australian charts).

The album it was lifted from ‘An I’ managed to just break into the Australian and British charts, but Plastic Bertrand was never destined to be an albums artist. Though tagged as a one hit wonder, Plastic Bertrand did score one other top 40 hit in the U.K. with his second single ‘Sha La La La Lee’ (#39), a remake of the old Small Faces song. He continued to record music and enjoyed sustained popularity around Europe and Canada, where his French lyrics were presumably more accessible. All the while with tongue firmly in cheek, Plastic Bertrand continued to mix and match a myriad of musical modes, adding disco, synth-pop, reggae and even rap to his early hybrid of punk-new wave. But by 1982 the sales were waning and Plastic Bertrand’s chaotic musical demeanour seemed a bit old hat. The ‘King of the Divan’ had lost his crown.

But Bertrand has continued to work in the music and entertainment industry in various capacities over the years, as well as opening his own art gallery. In the late 90s he was voted as MTV’s “most wanted comeback artist”, and most recently Australian fans witnessed the Plastic ‘fantastic’ as part of the Countdown Spectacular II series of concert shows in 2007.

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