Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited

Various Artists

Verve Forecast, 2006

REVIEW BY: Shane M. Liebler

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/01/2006

I guess sometimes the best introduction to a cult artist is through the work of his fans. Especially when those paying homage are some of the most recognizable names in alternative and indie rock.

Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited is one of the most peculiar listening experiences I’ve had in a while. Serge Gainsbourg, a womanizing, heavy-smoking and hard-drinking Jew (by most accounts), made French pop music in the 1950s and ’60s that holds up shockingly well today, at least when delivered in English by Franz Ferdinand, Portishead, Tricky and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe among others.nbtc__dv_250

I’d never heard of Gainsbourg before now. His song “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus,” featuring an orgasmic female, just barely made it to the U.S. charts in the 1960s, but was a hit in many other parts of the world. Indie singer/songwriter Cat Power takes the honors here with sexy results.

A cross-referencing the originals reveals Gainsbourg was writing Placebo songs more than 40 years ago. Band frontman Brian Molko makes “Requiem For A Jerk” brood with his trademark ragged nasal whine backed by electro-specialist Faultline. Placebo reappears on “Ballad Of Melody Nelson,” another compilation standout.

In many cases the only differences from the originals is the English translation and employing synths instead of strings. Even with traditional instruments, though, this stuff must have sounded pretty strange and dark to any audience in the Motown era.

The Kills nail the bittersweet, down-tempo “I Call It Art,” accented with the duo’s gritty minimalism. “I wonder, I wonder, no wonder / The weakest, the cheapest hangover,” singer VV speaks over a downward-spiraling cinematic melody. The lyrics on the disc are often humorous while poetically provoking the oft-painful human condition, particularly the vices of love.

Gainsbourg Revisited is a surprisingly good intro for American listeners who weren’t alive or living in Europe four decades ago, but it’s far from essential. Yet despite the impressive roster of contributors, most of the tracks, save “I Call It Art,” fail to leave a lasting impression.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2006 Shane M. Liebler and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Verve Forecast, and is used for informational purposes only.