Release Date: Mar 24, 2009
Record label: Light In The Attic
Genre(s): Rock, Pop
Serge Gainsbourg had no great attachment to genre. By the time he came to rock music, in his early 40s, the French star had traced his oblique, provocative course through chanson (French vocal music), jazz, and light pop. He'd made percussive café jams about suicide and given Eurovision popstrels France Gall and Françoise Hardy songs full of blowjob puns.
Serge Gainsbourg was born in France to Russian parents. His classic album Histoire De Melody Nelson is an ode to the lure of virgin beauty, similar in focus to a work of another Russian, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The record made little waves at the time of its original 1971 release, but fulfilled a creative promise Gainsbourg had made to Jane Birkin.
Morally reprehensible, musically enthralling celebrated concept record for being perverse is a bit like damning Bob Dylan for being coy. Sure, between lover and muse Jane Birkin’s faux (but pregnant!) nymphet pose on the cover and the album’s basic concept (old man hits young teen with Rolls, compromises her in a cheap motel and then loses her to a plane crash), you can run out of eyebrows to raise. But the magic of Gainsbourg’s Lolita is its essential surrealism juxtaposed with incredible musicianship.
Thirty-eight years after the release of Histoire de Melody Nelson, you can still hear the heavy breathing. Collaborating with composer/arranger Jean-Claude Vannier, Serge Gainsbourg left much to the imagination on his 1971 Nabokovian song cycle, unfolding an illicit and tragic love story in just seven songs. Then-lover Jane Birkin coos the titular name on "Ballade de Melody Nelson," but the sleazy funk basslines and Vic Flick's wandering-eye guitar-work on opener "Melody" and orchestral closer "Cargo Culte" drive the LP's love, sex, and death beautifully.