Sunday, November 22, 2009

Recent Record: Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson

Let me begin by tracing the extremely long and convoluted path that I took to finally listen to this record. Pitchfork has been gleefully documenting some strange Beck vs. Matt Friedberger vs. Radiohead fight thing. And then there's this whole Beck doing stuff with Charlotte Gainsbourg. And being curious I consulted everyone's friend, Wikipedia to find that she's the daughter of crazy Frenchman Serge, who I'd heard a bit about but had never been inclined to listen to. And voilĂ ! Here we are. I've listened to this record, and with a little bit of backstory, here is my opinion on it:

This record is straight up funk-sounding. It grooves especially hard, trying to get you to feel it too, and groove along with it. And it does get you to groove along rather tastefully. This funk element is married to swooping string portions, which in some strange way works well on all levels. It's quite rare to find that strings and "funk"-based sound work together (if anything, it should join funk and horn sections), but Serge Gainsbourg deftly combines the two in an enjoyable manner. These funkier tunes are artfully balanced with softer, more traditional "pop" songs that accordingly play to Serge's strengths.

I will admit I have no understanding of French. But my research indicates that the lyrical material is quite racy. The general plot is that a much older man, in his fancy car, unexpectedly hits a girl on a bike. Said older man seduces said girl (Melody Nelson, hence the record), they do their sexual things (hear "En Melody" and her, uhm, cries of pleasure), and then she inevitably dies in a plane crash. For one reason or another.

What I get from my zero understanding is that this guy that Serge is portraying is a total player. And he sounds like it. He comes off as slightly sleazy, in some strange manner, and I'm going to guess that was the intended effect. And when taken on the whole with what is going on, it works. While on the "funkier" tracks Serge sounds like a total seduction-machine doing his thing, he sounds rather genuine in his affection. And this is through virtually no change in inflection. Perhaps it is a simple indicator that it's really the music behind the vocals that can change a mood entirely, but taken on the whole the feeling that something deeper is responsible is present.

I do like this record quite a bit. It's insanely catchy, and though I do feel oddly sleazy and/or dirty while listening to it, Histoire de Melody Nelson is, quite obviously, a very accomplished record. While those without experience with the French language (i.e. me) cannot really decipher what is going on story-wise (as the record is essentially a concept record), it really takes no time at all to get a sense of the goings-on just through what the band and Serge Gainsbourg himself are doing, whether it be affecting pop-crooning or funky seduction. The record is a great example of pop perfection, and as such I highly recommend getting around to this record if at all possible.

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