Jacques Brel – Les Toros

Overview

This 1963 EP was originally intended to contain a different track listing, but was changed at the last minute and ‘J’Aimais’ was replaced with ‘Les Fenetres’.

This change was alluded to in the EP’s cover design, which shows the original track listing with a black cross through ‘J’Aimais’ and the replacement track scrawled at the bottom of the list.

In addition to the hasty change of the cover, the track listing on the rear of the single is not in the correct order. Some versions of this EP have a sticker over the track list to fix the running order.

A rare version of the cover before the tracks were changed.

Analysis

In ‘Les Toros’ or ‘The Bulls’, the narrator describes the anguish and suffering of bulls during traditional Spanish bullfights. In the first verse, the bulls are described as growing weary as they wait to enter the bullfighting ring, while the audience are described disparagingly as “grocers” who get caught up in the excitement and think of themselves as “Don Juan”.

In the first refrain, the bull realises its fate as it enters the ring, and looks up to see that its horns have been replaced by “the horns of a cuckold”. Through this, Brel is insinuating that the bull has been made impotent, that it is shamed and humiliated, and that it does not have a fighting chance of winning against the matador.

Thought the verses, there are also references to “the English” masquerading as first Henry de Montherlant (a French dramatist who wrote about heroism during WW1), then Carmencita, and finally Wellington.

It’s about seeing victory in defeat, about using others’ weakness to feel strong (a theme Brel introduced in ‘S’Il Te Faut’ – one of his first recorded songs.

This song was promoted with a music video which sees Brel dressed like a matador.

In ‘Les Vieux’ (‘The Old’), Brel sings about the ever-shrinking world of the elderly as they age, become bedridden and finally – in a lyric David Bowie would later appropriate in his song ‘Sons of the Silent Age’ – “not die, just go to sleep one day and sleep too long”.

The chorus of the song directs the listener’s attention to a silver clock in the old person’s home, which with every tick waits for its owner to expire. In the song’s final lines, Brel twists the words to the second person to remind the listener of their own mortality.

La Fanette‘ tells the story of the narrator losing his love (Fanette) to his best friend following a trip to the beach. The lyrics deal with the impact of this on the narrator and how he was “crazy” to have believed that Fanette loved him.

Les Fenetres‘ (‘The Windows’) is an interesting song that comprises a series of vignettes of life as viewed through (or rather, by) personified windows. There are scenes of love, scenes of sorrow, and scenes in which the windows witness indignity and blankly stare on, without empathy. Symbolically, the windows are a device used to frame the scenes that Brel sings about – the basement window allows Brel to describe a soldier dying on the ground, the attic window allows him to describe a poet living in poverty in a bedsit. The window itself is a metaphorical barrier that allows the narrator to sing of the scenes in a detached manner, which is amplified by the frivolous, frenetic and tongue-in-cheek manner in which Brel performs the song.


Details

Side A:

  • Les Toros
  • Les Vieux

Side B:

  • La Fanette
  • Les Fenetres

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