|2. Ballade De Melody Nelson|
|3. Valse De Melody|
|4. Ah! Melody|
|5. L'Hotel Particulier|
|6. En Melody|
|7. Cargo Culte|
This album is great. It's great in the way that Can and Faust are great. It's great in the way Miles Davis is great. Buy it.
As with all Gainsbourg's work, Melody is a personal expression wrapped up in a guise of canny song writing, devilish arrangements and dips into pure lyrical melodrama. The central concept sees Serge stepping into the role of a middle-aged businessman, who develops some intense feelings of lust for English teenager Melody Nelson (...after he accidentally knocks her down with his car!!!). The album then goes on to chronicle the seduction and eventual relationship, with Serge narrating in a sleazy whisper - over an evocative and constantly free-flowing bed of acoustic guitars, subtle-pianos, heavy-bass riffs, pounding drums and waltzing orchestral flourishes - a doomed romance of innumerable proportions. It all sounds great to me... like a soundtrack to a film that was never made, with Gainsbourg conveying a multitude of character emotions (going from apathetic, to lustful, to gentle and perverted) that are always mirrored perfectly by those forceful musical arrangements. I'm not going to pretend that I understand every lyric that Gainsbourg croons (seeing as I only have a slight grasp of the French language), nor will I pretend that such rudimentary understanding is integral to the enjoyment of this album. For me, every single word spoken by Serge is understandable... because his voice is so packed full of warmth, character and charisma.
Like all the great albums, L' Histoire de Melody Nelson has a sound and ideology of it's own, which means that such notions of language and location are stripped away by the feeling that is instilled within the listener through the combination of the words, voice, soul and music (yes, yes... forgive the hyperbole!!). After all, aren't albums like Revolver, Pet Sounds, Let it Bleed, Astral Weeks and Blonde on Blonde just as potent and popular in France, Italy, Germany, etc, as they are in English speaking countries like here and in the U.S.? Think about it. There's also a detectable influence from this found on albums like the Great Escape by Blur (something suitably moody like The Universal, or even End of a Century from Parklife), as well as most of the 90's albums from Pulp (This is Hardcore has a definite Gainsbourg feel), The Divine Comedy's A Short Album About Love (something like In Pursuit of Happiness and I'm All You Need), the work of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, and of course, a track like Paper Tiger from Beck's great album Sea Change (so the album should be even easier to comprehend now than it was back in 1971).
My favourite moments from the album would be Melody, Ballade de Melody Nelson and Cargo Culte, though in all fairness, it is wrong to pick favourites!! This is an album that should be experienced from beginning to end in one unbroken sitting, as the listeners allow themselves to be drawn into the central relationship, consumed by the passion and melodramatic excess, and eventually spat out on the other side of heartache. Throughout the record, Gainsbourg is writing and performing (some of vocal delivery is more akin to acting than singing... as he creates a character, a mood and an emotion, etc) at an extremely high-calibre. The arrangements and overall band performance is great too, particularly the bass, which creates a deep and hypnotic groove that you could get lost in, and those strings, which suggest Latin and also middle-eastern influences, are perfect, managing to capture that grand old rainy day melancholy, in the most cinematic sense!!
L' Histoire de Melody Nelson is a fine album that has aged perfectly and makes a lot more sense now with the references of recent bands and pop icons dipping their toe into the seedy world of Serge, whilst mining a similarly libidinous path of excess on a road to emotional despair. Ultimately, the album shows Gainsbourg's influence on contemporary music and cements his reputation as a poet and performer far greater than the drinking, chain-smoking and on-camera propositions to Whitney Huston would suggest.
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