Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited

I’ll readily admit that I had absolutely no familiarity with the work of Serge Gainsbourg before listening to this new tribute compilation. A quick Wikipedia visit got me up to speed a bit, but many listeners will likely be drawn to this compilation by the guest artists rather than the subject. The artist list is simply remarkable, including such disparate but esteemed names as Franz Ferdinand, Portishead, Michael Stipe, Tricky, and Marc Almond. The best part: their contributions are actually worthwhile and add up to a cohesive, compelling listening experience. I have no point of reference for how these new tracks stack up against Gainsbourg’s original compositions, but they stand just fine on their own merits.

Gainsbourg was a French artist who achieved success in his homeland as a solo recording artist, a film composer, as well as an actor, director, and poet. His recordings crossed many genres including rock, pop, reggae, and even hip hop, so it’s fitting that there’s so much variety in the artists assembled here.

The cd gets off to a rollicking start with Franz Ferdinand’s fiery A Song for Sorry Angel, then moves into a downtempo mode that carries through most of the rest of the compilation, starting with Cat Power and Karen Ellson’s plaintive cover of I Love You (Me Either). Jarvis Cocker from Pulp collaborates with Kid Loco on I Just Came to Tell You I’m Going, a track that never really develops into anything memorable but doesn’t fall off the tracks either.

One of the highlights of the cd is the re-emergence of trip hop legends Portishead after a far too long absence, and they show no signs of rust on the brief but potent Requiem for Anna, sequencing nicely into Brian Molko, Faultline and Francoise Hardy with more shades of trip hop on Requiem for a Jerk. Michael Stipe’s track L’Hotel is an interesting curiosity, basically a monologue recited over a simple piano and drum track with some strings and guitar gradually layered in as the song progresses. It’s about as far removed from R.E.M. as imaginable, and it works very well.

Fellow trip hop alum Tricky contributes Au Revior Emmanuel with his typical mellow yet sinister approach, fusing his latest female muse’s vocals over his dense and twisted production. Next up is a fun pairing of Marianne Faithfull’s world-weary vocals with Sly and Robbie’s reggae production on Lola R. for Ever, a seemingly bad idea that ends up as a surprising success.

After perhaps the only throwaway track from lesser-known artists Gonzales, Feist and Dani, Soft Cell veteran Marc Almond gets some crunchy electro production from Trash Palace on Boy Toy, followed by Placebo’s less effective electronic stylings on The Ballad of Melody Nelson. Next up, the Rakes push the tempo back up with their post punk approach to Just A Man With A Job. Another high point of the cd is the contribution from The Kills, I Call It Art, a minimalist, downtempo song with a haunting vocal that begs for instant replay. The cd wraps up nicely with Carla Bruni’s Those Little Things, a sweet low-key track with Bruni accompanied by acoustic guitar.

The producers behind this compilation deserve much praise for assembling such a stellar line-up of artists and eliciting such effective performances from them. The cd is a delight, and unlike most compilations, can best be enjoyed by listening to it in full rather than skipping to key tracks. In short, it’s a superb tribute to the work of Monsieur Gainsbourg that is likely to win him and its contributors new legions of fans.


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