Benjamin Biolay- Trash Yéyé (2007, Virgin France)
Benjamin Biolay is, basically, the new Gainsbourg. It may seem a lazy comparison but in this case, it's an apt one. Biolay is a singer-songwriter, sometime actor and record producer who is at the forefront of modern, intelligent, literate French pop. Trash Yéyé was his last album for Virgin/EMI before they dropped him after unsatisfactory sales (he then came back with a double LP on an independent label which got rave reviews, so EMI are probably kicking themselves).
Take Gainsbourg. Remove the dirty-old-man element. Add even more talent for lyrical inventiveness. Voila- you've got Benjamin Biolay. His understated vocal style resembles a mix of Serge & Etienne Daho; his arrangements are full of lush strings, cinematic flourishes and 70s influences. You could go down a list of "essential bits for a chanson album" and most of them would be here. Although much is familiar, that's not to say that the album is clichéd; it does what it does very well. There are surprises along the way: 'Laissez Aboyer Les Chiens' which starts off like a French Portishead, the discoish arrangement of 'Rendez Vous Qui Sait'.....the utterly incongrous Bobby McFerrin sample at the end of 'Bien Avant'. Which shouldn't work, but does.
There are various, numerous French artists doing chanson ("nouvelle" or otherwise) badly. Biolay isn't one of them. Anglophone countries' general rejection of foreign-language music will probably prevent him from getting the wider recognition he deserves.