Tuesday, March 24, 2009

histoire de melody nelson by serge gainsbourg

Hey did you hear the one about sex selling? Ha! The original French playboy Serge Gainsbourg is back with a very cool posthumous rerelease, Histoire de Melody Nelson (out today via A Light in The Attic Records). 

The seven-song EP is the story of a man's chance encounter, subsequent seduction, and the tragic end of underaged, "natural redhead," Melody Nelson.  While the French art world is littered with such parings, it's taboo stuff to our prudish North-American sensibilities. Of course, form brings meaning to content. I suspect even grocery lists could be rendered questionable in Gainsbourg's trademark sing-speak. Although to be fair, the thematic material is handled with extreme care. Accompanied by his wife Jane Birkin, demonstrating where daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg gained her unique phrasing, the only eyebrow-raising track to the non-French speaker is "En Melody," which plays like a toned-down sequel to subversive, Catholic-church condemned "Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus."\

Musically, this is easily Gainsbourg at his finest and a great place to start for those with even a passing interest in French pop. Between the cohesive instrumentation -- including a bass line all musical students should be studying, soaring choral work and orchestration, and, bien sur, Gainsbourg's melodramatic intonation -- there's a conceptual synergy that's hard to beat, one that even today has artists like Air, Jarvis Cocker and Beck referencing it in their own work. Of course, ever the epitome of subversive French sex-appeal, Monsieur Gainsboug probably wouldn't have had it any other way. 

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