Charles Aznavour
Greatest Golden Hits
(Angel 33703)

Aznavour is part Jacques Brel, part Roger Whittaker, part Frank Sinatra, and ultimately 100% Aznavour – an unheralded performer (in this country, at least).

Greatest Golden Hits contains English language versions of twenty Aznavour classics, songs that are French standards and yet which do not lose a thing in translation. (I say this as though I understand them in the original, when in fact the only French I know is "Oui," mainly because my Mom had an extensive collection of that magazine.)

You definitely need to put on your "alternate ears" to fully appreciate the CD, as it won't make a whole hell of a lot of sense if your regular listening regimen includes those so-called "important" artists like Beck, Oasis, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Wait a minute, I can't even follow these remarks anymore.

Hm, oh well. Aznavour's masterpieces are all here: "Yesterday When I Was Young," "After Loving You," "Happy Anniversary," "And I In My Chair," "What Makes a Man"' (covered chillingly by Marc Almond a few years back). Most of the other tracks live up to Aznavour's standard highly dramatic, humorous, and very unique style. His voice is distinctly "French crooner," and the music passes for 70s easy listening until you start catching the lyrics, which are often serious poetry.

Songwriters are very infrequently good poets (Lou Reed and Henry Rollins, for example, are pitifully bad poets; Paul Simon and Morrissey, at their best, are pretty good) but Aznavour is among the best. The sustained interior monologue of "Happy Anniversary" is funny, awkward, and in the end mistily romantic – and totally convincing throughout.

Most of the songs center around themes of love, but they rarely dip into cliché ("A Blue Like the Blue of Your Eyes" is an exception there), and the persona songs are utterly fascinating ("What Makes a Man," "It Will Be My Day," and "You've Let Yourself Go" especially). The great humor throughout is refreshing and something that is pretty much absent from American pop singing, which tends to have either intellectual cleverness or forced comedy as its principal comedic tools.

At twenty tracks, the CD is long, but not really too long … although I'd hardly say I listen to it all the way through very often. Still, in particular moods, almost all the tracks are favorites. The arrangements are a bit on the schmaltzy side, making Greatest Golden Hits the kind of CD you'll only put on when the mood really strikes, but when it does, it's a very cool, mellow listen … romance for the brain and the heart (but not the ass).

Aznavour's an acquired taste, so neophytes are advised to start here before diving into the French albums, which admittedly are extremely great-looking, but you'll get a much better appreciation of his art by hearing him in English first (that is, unless you speak that garbled so-called "language" which to my ears is the sound of thirty men pulling their tonsils out with tuning forks).

Easily one of the 20th century's greatest performers, Aznavour packs more charisma and style into one word than Sammy Davis, Jr. could pack into Linda Lovelace's mouth with all his might.

Review by Tanny Mannersfield