Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Jazzy Soundtracks of Serge Gainsbourg

Serge the boho hipster icon. Serge the kinky song stylist. Serge the lover of beautiful blondes. Serge the debauched poet. Serge the insatiable perve. Serge Gainsbourg is many things to many people. During his 30+ years in music, he was also a movie maker and movie music composer. This three-disc retrospective captures his soundtrack work for 34 films made between 1959 and 1990.
For anyone familiar with Serge's jazz and pop work -- through albums such as the masterpiece Histoire de Melody Nelson and compilations such as Comic Strip and Du Jazz dans Le Ravin, to name but a few -- it is quite apparent that Serge was a versatile music maker. His influence on pop music rivals that of the Velvet Underground (and rivals anyone in France). (If French is a language barrier, more hesitant listeners are encourged to hear Mick Harvey's English-translated cover albums Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants.)
Not surprisingly, Serge's movie music carries over from his pop work. After all, there are a few (just a few) tracks included that also appear on the Mercury/Philips collections (Couleur Cafe, Classe X, etc.) And while there are more instrumentals here than vocal tracks, the sense of Serge remains consistant.
Disc one (1959-1967), for films such as Strip-Tease and Anna, is the jazziest of the lot. Small group settings proliferate. Latin percussion, horns, piano, jazz guitar and vibes are put to good use. As is the case throughout the collection, vocal duties are split between Serge and female singers such as Juliette Greco and Jane Birkin.
Disc two (1967-1970), for films such as Slogan and Cannabis, is more stylistically varied. There is sitar rock, lush orchestral, proto raps, psychadelic afro-beat experiments, dancefloor ravers, baroque rock, you name it. If anything, this disc reinforces the idea that 67-70 was an incredibly fertile period for Serge.
Disc three (1972-1990), for films such as Sex-Shop, Je t'Aime Moi non Plus and Goodbye Emmanuelle, is also stylistically varied. In addition to rock and lush orchestral, Serge ventures into reggae, disco funk, new wave and -- dare I say -- soft rock. It could be argued that disc three is the least charming of the lot, but necessary for a complete picture of Serge's soundtrack output. This disc also includes some bonus tracks from as early as 1962.
In conclusion, casual fans of Serge may have little use for this box, but anyone who digs Serge's gift for moody melodies will love it.

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