PARIS, FRANCE - SEX, drugs and French politics: Carla Bruni's 1960s-influenced new album has sparked a sensation ahead of its release this week, but the work neatly sidesteps her love life with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The third album by the supermodel-turned-chanteuse, 'Comme Si De Rien N'Etait' (Simply), hits the stores on Friday in France and much of Europe after weeks of hype by celebrity-watchers.
Half a dozen news magazines have run cover stories on the 40-year-old French first lady in the past month, with the gossip press nearing fever pitch, leading her record company Naive to move up the album's release by 10 days.
'Here it is at last, Carla Bruni's famous album. The object of so much desire, questioning, speculation, rumour and fantasy,' wrote the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday.
Recorded at a Paris studio near the Champs-Elysees, the album branches out from Bruni's folk-flavoured past, with a Sixties pop sound and eclectic range of influences, from the Beatles to bluegrass, bossa nova and flamenco.
It marks a clean break from the pared-down guitar melodies of her successful first album, 'Quelqu'un m'a dit' (Someone Told Me), released in 2002.
The 14 tracks also have considerable eyebrow-raising potential: on one track Bruni sings that she is 'still a child, despite my 40 years, despite my 30 lovers.'
Another, 'Ma came' (My drug), drew a formal protest from the Colombian government for speaking of a love 'more deadly than Afghan heroin, more deadly than Colombian white.'
But those hoping for a give-away to the private lives of the country's pre-eminent couple risk being disappointed.
A single song, 'Ta Tienne' (Yours) appears to sum up Bruni's current state of mind: 'I, who used to make men dance, I give my whole self to you.'
'Let them curse me, let them damn me. I don't give a stuff.' Bruni wrote all the songs except three: one adapted from a poem by bad-boy French author Michel Houellebecq, and cover versions of 'You belong to me' by Bob Dylan and an anarchist song from her native Italy.
One title, 'Salut Marin' (Hey Sailor), is dedicated to her brother Virginio, who died in 2006 and whose work as a photographer also gave the album its name.
In an interview this month, Bruni said she was aware the response to the 42-minute album 'will not just be musical' and 'risks being scrambled' by her marriage to Mr Sarkozy.
A catwalk model who became a singer in her mid-30s, Bruni wedded the just-divorced French president in February after a whirlwind three-month romance that initially sent Mr Sarkozy's popularity ratings into freefall.
Since their marriage Bruni has been credited with softening the right-wing president's public persona, although a poll in L'Express magazine showed 55 per cent of the public believe Mr Sarkozy 'is using his wife for his own image.'
As first lady, Bruni had to drop plans for a promotional tour for security reasons - though she will be interviewed on the main evening news on Friday - and will donate all royalties to charity.
Bruni's first album wowed both critics and the public, selling two million copies worldwide, but her second, last year's 'No Promises' which put the words of English poets to music, did less well, with 380,000 copies sold.
Her new status as first lady proved a headache for music critics asked to review the new album.
'There was a debate between those who said we couldn't talk about her any more, and those who thought it was a good record and it would be a shame not to cover it,' said Jean-Daniel Beauvallet, deputy editor of music weekly Les Inrockuptibles.
Reviews so far have been good, including one breathless piece in the pro-government newspaper Le Figaro which called the album 'a perfect success,' full of 'artistic maturity'.
Editors at Les Inrockuptibles finally settled on a straight write-up but no interview of Bruni herself.
'I didn't want us to trash the record because of who she was,' said Beauvallet. -- AFP