Carla Bruni finds joys of English, and feminism

New York (AFP) –


As a multilingual pop star, Carla Bruni intimately feels each language. In her native Italian, she explains, reading a simple menu sounds like poetry but the words can be hard for non-natives to decipher.

French, her main professional language, is wonderful for writers but lacks tonality -- "Rr! rr! rr! rr! rr! rr!" she explains for emphasis, exaggerating the Gallic uvulars.

But English, in which the singer, model and former first lady of France recorded her latest album, is the language of rock 'n' roll.

"It has a rhythm and it has a sort of tempo that Latin languages don't have," Bruni, beaming after morning stretch exercises, told AFP on the sweeping terrace of her suite in a boutique Lower Manhattan hotel. "English is a natural singing language."

"French Touch," which comes out Friday, consists entirely of covers. The original artists vary widely -- Abba, AC/DC, The Clash and Lou Reed, among others -- but Bruni transforms each into a loungy, retro style of pop standards with her breathy yet raspy voice.

It is Bruni's second English album following 2006's "No Promises," in which she adapted poetry. Bruni composes music on guitar but says she doesn't feel comfortable writing lyrics in English.

Bruni thought about hiring a co-writer and spoke with David Foster, the veteran musician who has worked with soft-rock wonders such as Chicago and Celine Dion. But after hearing her covers, Foster signed on to produce a full album's worth.

- 'You can be a feminist and stand by your man' -

One surprise from Bruni's album -- a passion for country music, a genre not known for its European following.

Bruni brings a light sensuality to Patsy Cline's classic "Crazy," with country legend Willie Nelson duetting for a more twangy chorus.

"I love country music. To me it's the white blues," Bruni said.

And she sings Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" -- controversial on its release in 1968 for its message, at a time of cultural tumult, of marital fidelity. Lines include: "Be proud of him / because after all he's just a man."

Bruni in 2008 married France's then president Nicolas Sarkozy and, shortly after leaving the Elysee Palace, caused a stir with remarks that appeared to criticize feminism.

The singer rejected criticism of "Stand By Your Man" and said she considered herself a feminist.

"It's a simple song about a girl who's in love," she said. "If it was a man who wrote the song, it would be a little bit of a macho song, but it's a woman, so it's her choice. I thought it was very feminine, very classic.

"I'm very much a feminist, but I think that song is cool. I think you can be a feminist and stand by your man. I don't see the contradiction," said Bruni, whose famous husband was nodding to the beat from a table near the stage at her concert the night before in a Greenwich Village club.

"Feminism was a fight -- and it is still a great fight -- but that doesn't mean you cannot get married and be happy with a man."

- Covers made 'with modesty' -

"Stand By Your Man" returned to center-stage in the 1992 US presidential election when Hillary Clinton -- later a candidate herself -- said of her husband Bill Clinton's dalliances, "I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by man like Tammy Wynette."

"French Touch" touches politics only at its most indirect. She explained her take on Depeche Mode's "Enjoy Your Silence" as a hope for calm in a chaotic world. (US President Donald Trump once claimed to be dating Bruni, which she vehemently denies.)

Elsewhere on "French Touch," Bruni accentuates the jazz underpinnings of The Clash's "Jimmy Jazz," the sharpest departure from punk on the rockers' seminal album "London Calling," and brings out the Latin beat on The Rolling Stones' "Miss You."

Bruni was once involved with Stones frontman Mick Jagger but insisted there was no channeling of him. "The Stones are The Stones; they are for anyone," she said.

Bruni said she was not so much offering an alternative interpretation of The Stones or The Clash as she was performing songs she loved.

"It has no logic and no reason," she said of her album with a laugh. "All of these covers were made with a lot of fun -- but also with a lot of modesty."