The Legends of Laurel Canyon
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best
Transfiguration of Vincent
Christmas in the Heart
Glitter and Doom Live
Let It Roll: The Best of George Harrison
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Playing for Change
The ‘All-Music Guide’ opens their assessment of Serge Gainsbourg by referring to him as “the dirty old man of popular music.” That tells only half of the story but I suppose that it’s an epithet that will have to do for most Americans. In this country, very few people grew familiar with Gainsbourg; he never had a top 40 hit and sang (or spoke, actually) in his native French language, which certainly didn’t help matters. Music fans knew of him through “Je’Taime Moi Non Plus” (which translates rather humorously as “I Love You – Me Either”), which made some inroads on the radio, despite its overtly sexual content.
“Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited” is a tribute album to Mr. Gainsbourg, and it has one or two distinct advantages at reaching a mass audience that Mr. Gainsbourg himself did not have. First of all, the pop artists featured on this collection already have a sizeable following, especially Franz Ferdinand and Cat Power. Second, the lyrics throughout this tribute have been translated to English, making it easier to hear the wry sensuality that defines a Gainsbourg song.
The Franz Ferdinand performance of “Sorry Angel” is good enough on its own to justify a purchase of this disk, especially since the track is also credited to Gainsbourg’s musical partner and lover Jane Birkin (the female voice on “Je’Taime Moi Non Plus”), but Cat Power’s version of his only near-hit (with Karen Elson) makes this disk essential listening. It is fascinating to hear the English version, and as sung by two women, it not only retains but also in a sense surpasses the sly sensuality that made the original recording so hot, and so controversial.
The fourteen tracks on this collection are remarkably consistent, especially considering that this is a ‘tribute’ album. Not too surprisingly, I find Marc Almond and Trash Palace to be the least effective interpreter here (“Boy Toy”), but even then, I must admit that he does seem to possess an innate understanding of Gainsburg’s muse. The artists seem to be reveling in the sexually amorphous nature of the music, and although he has been dead for over fifteen years, it’s fascinating to hear that so many artists can still get a rise out of him.