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Serge Gainsbourg: 'Ballade de Melody Nelson'

May 31

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Thursday, May 31, 2007  RssIcon

The best French album ever is Serge Gainsbourg's 'Histoire De Melody Nelson' from 1971, a concept album about an older man's infatuation with an underage English girl (from Sunderland!). Despite this dodgy premise, it's actually a thoughtful and dreamy record.

The album is a showcase for the trademark Gainsbourg sound - soulful basslines, acoustic guitars and swooning symphonic strings. Air built a career from it; acts from Radiohead to Pulp to Massive Attack have been profoundly influenced by it. Gainsbourg's daughter Charlotte drew heavily on her father's style for her fine 2006 album '5:55'.

Jane Birkin (Gainsbourg's partner and co-vocalist), whose heavy breathing and groaning had caused 'Je T'aime (Moi Non Plus)' to be banned by radio stations and condemned by the Vatican, only has a short cameo on this record. This time her sound effects were confined to her horsey laugh, but she features on the album cover. Trivia: on the day the photo was taken she was pregnant with Charlotte but had not yet told Serge.

The highlight is 'Ballade De Melody Nelson', a short but gorgeous little song which opens with one of pop's greatest basslines. Then Gainsbourg croons like a tragic hero and the whole thing is over in less than two minutes.

The video, which you can watch here or below, is just as wonderful, like a message from Planet Groovy. Birkin twirls like a true early-Seventies hippychick, while Serge is just untouchably cool:

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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