When citing Nick Cave, Sonic Youth and PJ Harvery as influences you might expect an artist with dark lyrics and raw tunes but Mélanie Pain is far from sinister. Even when she describes a particularly bad break up it feels like she’s got a little smirk on her face. With her sweet, gentle voice and cute appearance she’s more like a young Françoise Hardy than a cool Kim Gordon.
Although My Name is the debut album from the French chanteuse she is no stranger to recording or touring. Pain has been one of the lead vocalists in Nouvelle Vague (“New Wave”) since they started in 2004. Nouvelle Vague does beautiful versions of some of Webcuts’ favourites songs from the ’70s and ’80s (including Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” and New Order’s “Blue Monday”) and while My Name is not poles apart from Vague it’s good to hear Mélanie do her own thing. Like her primary band’s albums, this could probably be played at a hotel bar or in a Crabtree & Evelyn store. However the gentle bossa nova beats of Nouvelle Vague have been replaced by a hint of soul, a tiny splash of folk and a big dose of mellow pop. Mélanie herself describes the music as “somewhere in between pop, folk, Americana and chanson Française”.
We all know that breaking up can be hard but sometimes it can take awhile before you realise what a relationship actually caused you mentally, physically or both. Mélanie sums it up succinctly in “Bruises” — “I was sitting on my bed just pretending to be sitting on my bed when bang… I have so many bruises but you have such a smile/I have so many scars I can see them in your eyes”. Another stand out is the title song, “My Name”, a gentle tune that brings Harry Nilsson or Simon and Garfunkel to mind but the other English language tracks don’t really leave a lasting impression. That’s left to those sung in her native tongue such as “Helsinki”, a heartbreaking duet between Mélanie and Julien Doré, about love at a distance, which evokes the richest emotions and provides the greatest depth on the album, and “La Cigarette” a Enio Morricone western style epic.
Mélanie’s voice is soft and comforting but somewhat hampered by a minor range. She could easily fall into the “three songs trap” (i.e. you love about three songs then you start getting bored). The mix between French and English keeps things interesting and there are some real gems here. Most of all it’s a charming effort — she could be singing about beating up grannies and robbing five year olds of their pocket money and it would still sound cute. My Name is a bit like candy-floss, light and sweet but at the risk of becoming too sickly.