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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

29 in 2009 - Serge Gainsbourg: "Histoire de Melody Nelson"

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
Originally Released: 1971
Genres: French Rock, Spoken Word, Concept Album
Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

My sincerest apologies to anyone who expected to see The Velvet Underground as my next album in this series. It'll come soon enough. Meanwhile, I've added a few of my own personal choices to list of albums which you can view by visiting the introduction page. These albums will be reviewed as I get to them, when I feel I've given them enough attention.

Histoire de Melody Nelson is the first of these albums. I've had the pleasure of listening to it for the last two months or so, and I'm still getting songs stuck in my head. Now usually, that's not such a huge deal, but when the lyrics are in French and the majority of the album is pretty much spoken, that's saying quite a lot.

For the uninitiated, Melody Nelson is considered to be the late Gainsbourg's greatest achievement in music. If you want to read people rant and rave about it, go ahead and click here. Almost any music critic who has ever come into contact with it has nothing but positive things to say about it (probably because the know they're supposed to), so I won't spend too much time dissecting the greatness of it. I initially listened to it because of these perfect review scores, not to mention due somewhat to my familiarity with his daughter Charlotte (Actress - 21 Grams, The Science of Sleep / Singer - 5:55).

Simply put, it's a strangely attractive album that is both haunting and endearing. Clocking in at under 28 minutes in length, Gainsbourg does a wonderful job of creating a mood with his deep, thudding bass and freewheeling guitars. Perhaps even more notable are the lush string compositions courtesy of his producer, Jean-Claude Vannier. On any album, these instruments would almost certainly clash, but on Melody Nelson they complement each other perfectly.

The album is a concept album, telling the Lolita-esque story of how Gainsbourg hits a teenager (named Melody Nelson, of course) with his Rolls Royce and how that leads to a love affair between the two - only moderately creepy considering the artist was over 40 at this point, but such is the territory. While really lacking in a forward-moving plot, the storytelling of Melody Nelson is made fantastic by Gainsbourg's poetic imagery. Again, it's all in French, so what I'm about to give you is a translation that I found online. Read it. It's perfect.

"A little animal, that Melody Nelson/ An adorable little girl and such a delicious child/ Who I only knew for an instant"

"Oh! My Melody/ My Melody Nelson/ Lovable little idiot"

"Among these naked slaves carved from ebony who will be the silent witnesses to this scene/ While above the mirror reflects us, slowly I embrace Melody"

Ultimately their love affair is cut short, tragically some would say, but there's enough cool stuff going on on this album to keep you coming back to it again and again. If there were one negative to the whole album, it would be the song titled, "En Melody" (yes, it means "In Melody"). It's an instrumental, save for some speaking at the end, meant to represent the two main characters doing the naughty in a hotel room. The only terrible thing about the song (and the album) is Jane Birkin's horrid, shrill laugh that goes on for far too long. Birkin voices the character of Nelson on the album, and aside from this scene, she does a wonderful job.

So yeah, it's a pretty cool album, and one that was recently re-released in the United States. It's totally worth listening to on repeat, and it's so short that you'll probably listen to it a couple times before you even realize you're listening to the same songs over again. Required listening? No, not for everyone. For the indie crowd, probably.

Verdict: Classic


Anonymous said...

Where can I find more of the lyrics?

Cale said...

that's where I found the lyrics I used in this article

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