Jacques Brel – Le Plat Pays

Analysis

This 1962 EP features one of Brel’s most iconic songs – the eponymous A side “Le Plat Pays” or “The Flat Country”.

“Le Plat Pays” is a tender homage to Brel’s home country, Belgium. Originally a poem, Brel frequently performed this song live as a spoken word piece. Later in his live career, “Le Play Pays” became the only song that Brel would pick up his acoustic guitar and play accompaniment to. This can be seen as a nostalgic throwback to Brel’s first performances that consisted of him and his guitar, which echoes the nostalgic subject of the song – Brel is singing about Belgium, his home country, the place where he grew up. The Belgium that Brel describes is grey and dull – a “wasteland” – but one which the narrator has great affection for: “This flat country which is mine”. In the final stanza, the song becomes hopeful as Brel describes the changing of the wind, the return of “sons” from fighting in the war, and the crops growing in the fields.

Le Plat Pays

On the B side, “Casse Pompon” is a comedic song about a retired German corporal reminiscing about his former career in the German Army. The song also pokes fun at the Germans in general and insinuates that they feel nostalgia for the Third Reich, less than 20 years after the end of World War Two. The title of the song can be roughly translated as “Corporal Ballbreaker”, and the narrator describes a tough former-soldier, who has a tender side – which Brel duly mocks. Singing of the Corporal’s appreciation of poetry and words, Brel shouts out faux-German nonsense words as the musicians around him laugh. As the song progresses, Brel’s singing becomes more aggressive, mirroring the shouts of an army drill, as he describes the Germans’ opinion of Europe: “Berlin is just a bed of flowers from Moscow to the Auvergne”! By the end of the song, Brel has turned it from a song mocking the old Corporal, to one that attacks France’s complicity in the Second World War – announcing the “French” as the Corporal’s friends, possibly referring to Vichy-controlled France.

Casse Pompon

Lastly, “Les Biches” (“The Does”) is a complex song full of metaphors which describes teenage girls as “does” – but rather than having the does as powerless and submissive, with males portrayed as hunters tracking them down, Brel describes the does as the ones with the upper hand and fully aware of the power they hold over men, able to trick the stags – their pursuers – into the hunters’ traps, and actually enjoying being “hunted”. This power is strong enough to “turn hurricanes into poets”, and sees the “hunters” use rubies to lure them as they’re fed diamonds by their lovers. The title of the song has also been translated as “The Bad Girls”.

Les Biches

Tracks

Click the song name to view my poetic English translation of the lyrics.

Side A:

  • “Le Plat Pays” (“The Flat Country”)

Side B:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: