Jacques Brel remains an integral and hugely influential singer/songwriter in the scheme of twentieth-century music; with his gloomy and orchestral tales of whores, sailors, tramps and harlots influencing everyone from Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Shane MacGowan and Nick Cave, to bands like Jack, the Divine Comedy and Pulp. Like those acts, Brel's music is literate and theatrical, unfolding in a bleak world populated by lost love, loneliness, angst, melancholy and despair, but with the darkness softened by witty arrangements, satirical motifs and moments of dark comedy. The atmosphere of the songs is rich and evocative throughout... so, like the work of his contemporary Serge Gainsbourg; the songs practically reek of cheap booze and cigarette smoke, with the music occupying a special place upon the stage within the low-rent night club scenario that play out inside our minds.
The forty tracks collected here represent Brel at his best, offering a great introduction for those previously unfamiliar with his work. Although it is true that there probably could have been a third disk included, with some of Brel's equally great (but lesser known) songs missing from this collection, the real point of this set is to introduce Brel's music to a new audience, or to act as a definitive collection of hits for those of us who can't afford the epic Jacques Brel box-set released a few years before this. If you're at all interested in European music, theatrical-decadence, grand orchestration and a genuine outpouring of pure emotion through song, or perhaps if you're already familiar with Brel through the references to him from subsequent artists like Scott Walker, Neil Hannon, Nick Cave and Jarvis Cocker, then this really is a must-have purchase.