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

 |   |  1 min read

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. 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   World Music articles index

Various Artists: Womad, Australia and New Zealand 2016 (Cartell/Border)

Various Artists: Womad, Australia and New Zealand 2016 (Cartell/Border)

Just a quick heads-up on this 16-track compilation in advance of the Taranaki Womad which opens in a fortnight. This is one of those pleasurable homework assignments for the car if you are... > Read more

NITIN SAWHNEY INTERVIEWED (2007): Orchestrating A Throw of Dice

NITIN SAWHNEY INTERVIEWED (2007): Orchestrating A Throw of Dice

Ask British-Indian musician and composer Nitin Sawhney what he’s currently working on and five minutes later he is still telling you. Then adding, “Oh and also . . .” Sawney... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

GUEST WRITER MADELINE BOCARO hears classic Bowie celebrated just days before his death

GUEST WRITER MADELINE BOCARO hears classic Bowie celebrated just days before his death

In a recent interview, Tony Visconti told of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey's relentless enthusiasm and desire to bring Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the... > Read more

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE BEVIS FROND: Scuz me while we kiss this guy

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE BEVIS FROND: Scuz me while we kiss this guy

For a man with his name on almost 30 albums in the past three decades, you'd think the name Nick Saloman would be pretty well known. Okay, the albums all come under his band's name, but even... > Read more