Fri, 04 Aug 2006 11:29:50
Album Reviews: Monsieur Gainsbourg RevisitedVarious Artists Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited 3 stars out of 5 Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited is an antidote to the glut of tribute albums that play it safe by carbon-copying the original artist. Instead, the artists and assemblers on this album practically abandon Serge Gainsbourg on occasion. The source material in this case comes from a man who was saluted by former French president Francois Mitterand as "our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire." Words aren't without significance, then, so their translation into English is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Gainsbourg himself was an eyebrow-raiser, though for different reasons. His best-known song in the English-speaking world, "Je t'aime moi non plus," scandalized some listeners with its replication of female orgasm noises and its sexually ambiguous fence-straddling. Switched to English and propelled a few decades, it maintains a certain sex appeal -- thanks to heavy-lidded, bedroom-eyed delivery from Cat Power and Karen Elson (wife of Jack White) -- but doesn't come close to sounding risqué.
Not surprisingly, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker does one of the best interpretations, sounding something like a modern Leonard Cohen doing a vintage Burt Bacharach tune. He teams up with Kid Loco for "I Just Came to Tell You That I'm Going" (originally "Je suis venu te dire que je m'en vais"). Cocker is, in some ways, a kindred spirit to Gainsbourg: gifted with words, plenty capable of leering, and armed with a wry wit.
One of the major attractions is a song from a muscled-up Portishead, who are not exactly the most prolific recording act in music. Sexy but also menacing, their "Requiem for Anna" is one of the few songs that brushes up against a number of moods and textures. And it ends with feedback!
There's a fair share of filler, especially as the album winds on. Low points include Tricky's homogenized "Au Revoir Emmanuelle," the played-out Brit-rock of The Rakes ("Just a Man With a Job") and the grating vocalizing and video game bleeping of Placebo's "The Ballad of Melody Nelson."
Even when there's a disconnect between the new versions and their originals, though -- and hopefully fans of Michael Stipe, Franz Ferdinand, The Kills, and other participants will be incited to check out those originals -- Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited is an interesting tribute because of its readiness to roll the dice. If Gainsbourg hadn't approved of all the end results, he surely would have approved of that spirit. - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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