Jacques Brel – Les Bourgeois

First cover:

Second cover:

This 1962 EP features songs that would eventually be released on Brel’s first 12″ record, and the first album that he released on the Barclay’s label.

The vinyl releases of this era remain the only way to hear the original release of the song “Les Bourgeois” – later releases use a different take of the song. Both versions are very similar apart from some vocal phrasing.

“Les Bourgeois” is a comic song, which starts with Brel recounting a night of drinking with Pierre and Jojo (Jojo being the nickname of Georges Pasquier, whom Brel would later go on to write the song “Jojo” in memory of) which leads to the three shouting obscenities at rich people leaving a nearby hotel. As the song enters its final stanza, the now aged Brel and his companions become the bourgeois that are the subject of abuse.

The next song on the A side is “La Statue”, in which Brel takes the viewpoint of a statue of a dead soldier on a war memorial, ruminating on the irony of the plaque dedicated to his honour. Rather than dying valiant in the face of the enemy while fighting for his country, the narrator explains that he joined the army to meet “German women” – noting that, while the statue may depict his sacrifice as beyond reproach, in life the soldier was a less-than savoury character who lied to friends, cheated and even prayed to satan.

“Bruxelles” kicks off the B side. It’s a loud, brash, brass led anthem to Brussels’ heyday – which Brel places in the early 20th century or, as he puts it “the time of the silent movie”. The song describes the narrator’s grandparents as they sit on the ‘imperial’ (a type of omnibus) on a journey through the city watching the men and women go about in crinolines and opera hats. Brel sings of the hypocrisy of past generations, who didn’t think but wanted their children to be smart, who had fun but wanted them to be serious, and who were happy but enforced strict morals upon their grandchildren. Throughout the song, Brel uses the invented word “bruxellait” to describe Brussels, which is generally translated as “Brussels-ed”, however in the final lines the word takes on new meaning as the narrator notes that his grandfather was “waiting for the war”, the music slows and Brel breaks the word into syllables where its connection to the similar word “brûlée” (to burn) are more pronounced.

The last song on the EP is “Une Ile” (“An Island”). “Une Ile” is another example of Brel combining idealism with adventure as he describes a distant island paradise which it turns out doesn’t exist and is “built from dreams”.


TRACKS

Side A:

  • “Les Bourgeois”
  • “La Statue”

Side B:

  • “Bruxelles”
  • “Une Ile”

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