Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson (LightintheAttic/Rhythmethod)

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Serge Gainsbourg: Ballad de Melody Nelson
Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson (LightintheAttic/Rhythmethod)

As with the great Jacques Brel, there is no easy shorthand into the French singer, songwriter, actor and cultural icon that was Serge Gainsbourg (1928-91).

Gainsbourg -- much revered in France by many -- was undoubtably a roue and in these rather more sensitive times many would doubtless disapprove of his serial sexual encounters, love of young women, heroic smoking and drinking, and many other perceived "sins".

So be it.

But you cannot deny his enormous gifts: he was a sex symbol who, like Brel, was hardly an attractive man; he was a wonderfully expressive singer without much of a voice; one of his songs won a Eurovision Song Contest in '65 yet he also wrote the notoriously sensual and orgasmic Je t'aime . . . moi non plus for his lover Bridget Bardot then recorded it again with his new lover and muse Jane Birkin.

He wrote rock and pop, recorded with Sly'n'Robbie and Rita Marley, made an electronica album -- and, most famously, this one: a concept album from 1971 which tells (in French) the story of a middle-aged man who deliberately runs into the young, titular character and then tells the story (in breathy and erotic whispers) of their subsequent romance and its metaphorical ending.

Not that you actually need to know that or even speak French (the fat booklet gives all the details and English translations) because the power and importance of this album lies elsewhere: in the arrangements for guitar, percussion and orchestra.

This is astonishingly seductive and inventive music and the likes of Scott Walker, Placebo, Jarvis Cocker, Beck and others all line up to acclaim its sheer sonic sensibilities.

Orchestrated by Jean-Claude Vannier (the real star perhaps) and with cracking English session musicians including bassist Herbie Flowers and guitarist Alan Parker (and a choral part in the mysterious closing track), this is an album which quietly gets under your skin, inflitrates the senses and gets out of your way in just 28 minutes. You'll hit the repeat button immediately.

Long out of print and steeped in sensuality (check the cover photo of Birkin as Lolita with a teddy bear), The Story of Melody Nelson sounds as inventive today as it did in '71.

Rock guitars, orchestral, sensually ambient, bluesy touches, spoken word, sexy giggling and the cargo cults of Papua New Guinea. It's all here, believe it or not. 

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