Jacques Brel - Olympia 64 (1964), 5/10


Jacques Brel is a master of chanson and "Amsterdam" exhibits his graceful but powerfully energetic and technically proficient voice perfectly as the opener to this live performance. Beyond this strong introduction, however, many of these songs come across as novelties, the two closing tracks in particular in "Le dernier repas" and "Les toros" are largely uneventful. The original record only contained eight tracks where subsequent releases had more to round out their presentation and benefited from alternate track orders. Brel's second live album does not live up to his first and its original form is not a great example of his exceptional talents at full display. The jumpy, lighthearted feeling of the performance adds an element of playfulness that helps the songs progress buoyantly but there is still a missing quality of bravery or at the least a lack of adventure. Still, a track like "Tango fun├Ębre" sees Brel flirting with vocal virtuosity and humor with a fitting tango to accompany his foray into audaciousness. Then the momentum is stifled with "Le plat pays" that retreats into the leaned back, weary disposition of the rest of the album. "Les timides", while it could theoretically fall into the same trap, excels for its swaying grace and  fluid dexterity. The album passes by, especially with repetition, without much impact. Mastery does not always accompany greatness and Brel fails to provide a lastingly entertaining set of songs in spite of his obvious talents. The lyrics are worth exploring but do not vastly improve the listening experience, especially for non-native listeners. There are far better performances in chanson, including from Jacques Brel himself, so ultimately Olympia 64 is unimportant. Brel's first live recording and his notable studio albums are far more entertaining and impactful.