Being the quixotic Serge geek and completist that I am, my frustrations were somewhat assuaged when I finally got my hands on the just-released and highly sought-after album homage, Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited this week. (I was actually losing sleep over finding this which shows the fool that I am!) As with most tribute albums, the affair is somewhat spotty, hodge-podge and hit-or-miss, and could have benefited from the vision of a talented and focused curator like Hal Wilner or John Zorn (see number 13). The talent and collaborators are somewhat inspired but the results aren’t really. And, actually, this tribute is collection unique only in that it features exclusively English-language interpretations. Here is my appropriately self-indulgent track-by-track take:
01. « A Song For Sorry Angel » (Franz Ferdinand & Jane Birkin)
Sorry, this track is B-side at best! Jane B. is one of my patron saints but the upcoming English-language album, Fiction (which includes collaborations with youngsters Neil Hannon of Divine Comedy, Magic Numbers, Beth Gibbons, Rufus Wainwright, Arthur H, Dominique A, Cali and others) gives me pause. Her last effort, Rendez-Vous was a bit of a mess and these cross-generational and cultural unions, however well-intentioned and inspired, never seem to work so well – see recent history of Francoise Hardy and Marianne Faithful projects. Too many cooks in the kitchen or something like that they say… an element which is pervasive throughout this latest Serge tribute.
02. « I Love You (Me Either) » (Cat Power & Karen Elson)
This stand-out cut has been all over the internets over the last few weeks as another note in the perplexing cult of Cat Power and in anticipation of the release of Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisted and I must admit really is the highlight of this collection. Chan Marshall and Karen Elson-White (I want to hear more from her!) pull off the unthinkable, breathing fresh new life into an oft-covered and now terminally clichéd standard. Muy chemistry!
03. « I Just Came To Tell You That I'm Going » (Jarvis Cocker & Kid Loco)
Nothing special or memorable really… just go now. Mick Harvey delivered a warmer and more lovingly-produced version on his fantastic English-language Gainsbourg project, Intoxicated Man, some ten years ago. Also see the follow-up, Pink Elephants. (Nick Cave muse Anita Lane channels a brilliant Birkin).
04. « Requiem For Anna » (Portishead)
Beth Gibbons and tireless keeper-of-the-Gainsbourg-flame Jane Birkin have been working together quite a bit recently. I expected more of this track, since it is lesser-known and off of one my most beloved soundtracks ever, Gainsbourg’s score for the Anna Karina vehicle, Anna, and also it is the first time we’ve heard Portishead play together as a group in a few years. The results are somewhat plodding and lack resonance….Beth, maybe you should stick with the Talk Talk guy.
05. « Requiem For A Jerk » (Faultine, Brian Molko & Françoise Hardy)
See #10. Françoise phones her bit in – at least, I hope that was the extent of her involvement.
06. « L'hôtel » (Michael Stipe)
I have a deep aversion to everything Michael Stipe so I’m prejudiced and it’s not fair for me even comment! The last thing I want to hear is Stipe indulging himself - get a hotel!
07. « Au Revoir Emmanuelle » (Tricky)
Never one of my favorite Gainsbourg numbers and this Tricky version isn’t working any magic on me. Can I say in schocking deparrture from the beloved intial soft-core classic I enjoyed as a pre-pubescent, the Emmanuelle franchise has taken some alarming turns - cable-channel Cinemax runs the tragically diminished Emmanuelle in Outer Space and with Vampires seemingly non-stop during their after-hours programming - the harder they come, the harder they fall...
08. « Lola R. For Ever » (Marianne Faithfull & Sly And Robbie)
Surprisingly, I rather like this track – maybe Marianne Faithfull should follow the trend – Willie Nelson, Sinead O’Conner - and do a dub reggae album! Fear… Only if Sly & Robbie – Gainsbourg cohorts by the way - are behind the decks though. On second thought, maybe this one track will suffice.
09. « Boomerang 2005 » (Gonzales, Feist & Dani)
This is a spirited and fresh romp – the rap bit works well too (I discovered MC Solar the same year Serge expired)! I have a lot of respect for Gonzales as a composer, producer and arranger and the gang seems to be having fun! Let’s take this party back on the road – sorry Feist, I love ya but if I hear Mushaboom one more time I’m gonna puke!
10. « Boy Toy » (Marc Almond & Trash Palace)
A month or two ago, a dear friend, who was die-hard industrial in the day, dragged me to a Front 242 show up the street from Casa Skunkeye at the 930 club with comped tickets. I was indifferent to the scene then and have no tolerance whatsoever for that shit. Never cared for Depeche Mode either. (Surely Marc Almond could have conjured up his inner Brel and hashed up a tune from Gainbourg’s early career!)
11. « The Ballad Of Melody Nelson » (Placebo)
It’s awright… a bit meandering and no real departure from the original – stick to the original vice, no placebo necessary.
12. « Just A Man With A Job » (The Rakes)
Mildly charming and punchy update of Le Poinconneur de Lilas, the lament of the ticket-taker. Bet this is what Franz Ferdinand only wish they had contributed.
13. « I Call It Art » (The Kills)
J’adore Les Kills! This is the other standout track on the collection – the Kills’ version of Chanson du Slogan rivals Blonde Redhead’s mesmerizing interpretation on the far-superior tribute, John Zorn’s Great Jewish Music: Serge Gainsbourg. Yikes – was that ten years ago – that double-disc was the soundtrack for a certain doomy but romantic period for me as a struggling creative-type in NYC and featured the city's finest avant garde scensters. And if one is in the hankering for a truly inspired celebration of Serge Gainsbourg on the anniversaire of his passing, the collection I believe has just been re-released on the Tzadik label and is available in US stores again – highly recommended.
14. « Those Little Things » (Carla Bruni)
Ay, ce n’est pas mal… After the success of her French language debut, quelqu’un m’a dit, multi-lingual Bruni has been threatening an English-language album. I’ve been having nightmares of Keren Ann, but this track indicates the bluesier and earthier home-wrecking ex-model might be able to pull it off. At any rate, singing ex-models are a grand tradition in the Gainsbourg oevre and they certainly shine on this collection! Seriously, Bruni and Karen Elson might well be this generation's Mariane Faithfulls and Jane Birkins...
All in all, Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, while vapid and barely coherent as a fully-realized “tribute” or album, is fairly enjoyable – perhaps noddingly tawdry and tacky (benefit of the doubt?) - and worth it for a few of the tracks – ce petits riens - but just don’t fork out import prices for this bastard baby! Then again, what does one do to when a musical master has passed and devotees are hungry for more? There’s always unearthing rarities and outtakes (the Gainsbourg estate has milked that one), remastering and repackaging the library (ditto), and remixing to contemporary tastes, i.e., dance and reggae (done.dun.dumb). If anything, the Gainsbourg catalogue is ripe for an endless variety of interpretation and The Man was hardly discriminating… so I’m all for bringing it on!
I’m feeling inspired so here are the choice cuts (available for a limited time only!):
The Kills « I Call It Art »
Gonzales, Feist & Dani - « Boomerang 2005 »
Carla Bruni -« Those Little Things »