Serge Gainsbourg
Histoire de Melody Nelson


4.0
excellent

Review

by Louis Arp EMERITUS
January 16th, 2005 | 43 replies | 8,466 views


Release Date: 1971 | Tracklist


I’m in a predicament. When I do a review, I usually tend to be familiar with the artist; there’s a back catalogue of random knowledge in my head about the album, the musicians, or just any weird randomness. So here I am and I feel, perhaps appropriately, naked. I know absolutely nothing about Serge Gainsbourg, I’ve only heard the title Histoire de Melody Nelson in passing before this past week and a half and I know very little French. All these things seem not only like essential knowledge in reviewing this album but also the whole point. There is, however, one thing I’ve picked up in my short time with this short album: knowing about those things isn't a necessity in enjoying this album.

Just near twenty-eight minutes long, Histoire de Melody Nelson almost isn’t even an album. The seven tracks are a split between orchestral divergences, sultry funk, spoken word folk, french pop and manage to stay very tightly focused. Indeed, the focus is so compacted as one can immediately get the feeling that nothing else was needed. Every moment is precise, every line with a proper place but never so much as to create monotony. The album is very much the anti-thesis to monotony. As I understand from my little knowledge about the background of the album, it is actually a concept album, and as such, must be the shortest concept album in the history of music. The focus is on a character named... Melody Nelson. What her exact condition is to the Serge Gainsbourg’s narrative voice would require some translation as all lyrics are in Gainsbourg’s native French. The nature of their relationship, however, is explicitly clear simply as expressed through the music and general feel of the album. Sexuality. Let’s pick up from there.

Melody - Opens sparsely, a relaxing beat and Gainsbourg’s almost spoken word delivery. His delivery is perhaps the most evocative part of the entire album, giving a feel for the story even when the listener cannot comprehend, changing to find or fit the mood. The work on the album feels less an exhibit of the gracious explosions of sound but more a venue for the voice of Gainsbourg, a voice that can slide from sly to sensual to sleazy in a matter of words. While Gainsbourg sits in the driver's seat lyrically, musically “Melody” shifts gradually from laid-back into full gear, ripe with billowing arrangements and scratchy, serrated guitar riffs. She builds and builds and builds until ecstacy’s tip and then it evens out to introduce Melody Nelson, voiced by Gainsbourg’s wife, Jane Birkin. The crescendo returns and then fades into...

Ballade de Melody Nelson - 'Ballade' is the first of three tracks reaching or failing to reach two minutes in length. A deep bass groove leads into Gainsbourg, who whispers and croons his way through the two minutes with Birkin interjecting, “Melody Nelson". So very seductively every now and then. Deft finger picking gives way for the ever present orchestral squall. As with “Valse de Melody” and “Ah! Melody”, it’s difficult to really get into these three in and of themselves because of their collective brevity.

Valse de Melody – “Valse de Melody” means “'Waltz of Melody”. Hooray for babelfish! Anyways, just as the title suggests, this is a waltz of very classical nature. Think 18th century ballroom in the Louis XIV's Versailles. Serge sounds more poet laureate than sexual conquistador here and the style and music elicits a dreamlike air.

Ah! Melody – “Ballade”, ” Valse” and “Ah! Melody”, despite their temporal shortcomings do manage to each give a unique feel. 'Ballade' is a perpetual first kiss, “Valse'” could be romancing the lady and 'Ah! Melody,' perhaps, is a shade off from head-over-heels love. Once again, Serge Gainsbourg’s demeanor shifts. 'Ah!' finds him at his most pleasant, sounding optimistic and happy. The worst thing about making these assumptions is that I could be absolutely wrong. Horns burst from behind Gainsbourg, guitar plucks truly suggest glee but perhaps it’s all a clever slight of hand? Kind of makes me want to take up French.

L’Hotel Particulier - Here’s where the album begins the climb to the peak. Gainsbourg’s grasp on funk is particularly remarkable given the date of release on Histoire, not quite as vibrant as James Brown, not as psychedelic as Parliament. Nonetheless his perspective is distinctively French and a unique take on the style, filled with orchestral overtures. “L’Hotel Particulier” slowly pummels the listener with this brand of orchestral animal photographs funk with classic funk rhythms and riffs, then blends into a giant swell of strings and raw arousal. Serge Gainsbourg is now the predator, sounding nearly voyeuristic as he spews... whatever the hell it is he’s really saying.

En Melody – “In Melody”. Take the phrase as you will. “En Melody” is superb funk, wild and raucous, the most defining feature being an absolutely fat bass line that thumps around the track with incredible virility. What sounds like an electric violin or viola cuts in around the two minute mark, however, absolutely violating the tough bass line, stealing the spotlight in spectacular fashion. Everything about this song is energetic and jumping suggesting the innuendo of the title. The only vocals are Melody’s squeals and giggles and laugh that will either annoy or endear the hell out of you. Closing out, the energy gives way for a plaintive Gainsbourg accompanied by the sound of swirling wind and the words, “fatale a Melody". That can’t be good.

Cargo Culte - Moments of reflection; “Cargo Culte” mirrors the sounds of Melody nearly exactly, the same resounding bass, the same beat, the same slowly building tower of sound. But the difference is bitterness; how could we end up back here after all of that? The riff that tears at the two-forty mark is the sound of heart break. A choir howls at Gainsbourg like dead lovers. It’s the same leveling, the same “Melody, Melody Nelson" as 'Melody”. It’s practically the same battering funk meshed with lush arrangements, only now peppered with a choir to boot. It’s practically the same song but it sounds so different.

I’m just going to out and say this album sounds like sex. It sounds like Serge Gainsbourg is over-sexed or under-sexed, and that he’d rather have been having sex than recording this album. Of course that’s probably just over-speculation. Besides, the end result is this massively complete work that doesn’t even reach a half an hour.



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user ratings (106)
Chart.
4.2
excellent
other reviews of this album
TheCount (4.5)
French music at its finest and most perverse....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Happymeal
October 31st 2004



330 Comments


I haven't even heard of him, but I see the word "sex". I'm in.

I hope his songs aren't too rare to find. Great review, though I don't like short albums that much.

Dancin' Man
October 31st 2004



719 Comments


Sex? NC-17 is my new favorite genre.

Robert Crumb
Emeritus
October 31st 2004



165 Comments


It's pretty available on soulseek, I was able to download it on 56k in a night. Finding the actual album in stores might be tough in stores in the states though, I've found one import copy and it was about $20, but I'm still considering buying it. I like this album.

Zappa
October 31st 2004



355 Comments


I'm going to download this without a doubt. What's your slsk name, Crumb? Mine's Alex27782, if you'd rather not post it but don't mind messaging me to send this over.

morrissey
Moderator
November 27th 2005



1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is so awesome, tonight I was listening to last.fm radio and some random french song came on by the Serge Gainsbourg dude I've never heard of. And it was quite good. "Marilou", I think the song was called. And then I randomly came upon this review. I'll have to check him out further. Odd how music can be discovered.

GGGGGGGGreat review.

gaslightanthem
June 19th 2011



5209 Comments


despite being a misogynistic paedophile serge has to have been one of the coolest guys ever. album is so fucking good

Drsmith4
August 4th 2011



1710 Comments


I'm reading Lolita and listening to this...

http://cdn2.knowyourmeme.com/i/000/075/873/original/Raisins_Face.jpg

KILL
January 9th 2012



70298 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

good shit

Digging: Gal Costa - Gal Costa

ApplicationToHeaven
November 16th 2012



1557 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah

KILL
November 16th 2012



70298 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

en melody jams so hard

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
November 16th 2012



15694 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

did u play a vid of these on plug last week kill ? cant remember

Digging: Synaesthesia (UK) - Synaesthesia

KILL
November 16th 2012



70298 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yea dude the vid with the roger waters chick

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
November 16th 2012



15694 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

ye i remember now, the fuckable girl with the dodgy face, which song was that ?

KILL
November 16th 2012



70298 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

en melody bro

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
November 16th 2012



15694 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

right gonna watch vid and imagine screwing a female roger

KILL
November 16th 2012



70298 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i'm right with you hard ;)

YankeeDudel
November 23rd 2012



9304 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

sexy

Digging: Ozric Tentacles - Jurassic Shift

YankeeDudel
November 23rd 2012



9304 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

sensual

YankeeDudel
November 23rd 2012



9304 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i dont speak french but i have a boner

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
November 23rd 2012



15694 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

le boner



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