Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire De Melody Nelson - Review
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critics' view

“Histoire de Melody Nelson” is regarded by many critics and fans to be Gainsbourg's magnum opus. The concept album has a plot which involves a middle-aged man (played by Gainsbourg) accidentally colliding his Rolls Royce Silver Ghost into teenage girl Melody Nelson's bicycle, and the subsequent seduction and romance that ensues. Jane Birkin portrays the Lolita-like protagonist in song, on the cover and in the short film which followed. In some ways it could be seen as semi-autobiographical – in real life he was 40 she 21 when they started seeing each other in 1968. The later joke goes that only 30,000 copies were sold – but everybody who bought one became a pervert – you’ve got to laugh. It’s a somewhat dodgy concept – but it’s immaculate in its conception, and for that producer Jean-Claude Desmarty can take his share of the plaudits.

New Wave pop motifs and trippy beats give the whole work a futuristic feel, whilst the atmospheric strings deliver a cinematic experience that wouldn’t sound out of place in a James Bond soundtrack. After the release of the album, a music video was made for each song, and released all together as “Melody” a short musical, aired on French TV. The album’s finale reverts back to the opener, the two tracks being virtually inseparable in musical terms, with Herbie Flowers’ up-front, left-field bass once again lending the cutting-edge depth which has been a major highlight of the set. In “Cargo Culte”, Gainsbourg sings about Melody’s tragic death in a freak plane crash in the Pacific, comparing himself to a New Guinean shaman who tries to put her body together through the wrecks of the crashed plane, as a 70-strong choir signal the end of this sorry tale of sex and death. The psueds will have a field day with this one…

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