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Serge Gainsbourg 

Histoire de Melody Nelson (Light in the Attic)

Wednesday, Apr 22 2009
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Even with no knowledge of the French language, it'd still be fairly obvious that Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 album was consumed with lust. The pelvic-thrust basslines, his ear-licking vocals, and the way Jane Birkin exhaled as if being penetrated made Histoire de Melody Nelson legendary from the word go. A gift to his amorata Birkin, Gainsbourg's Nabokovian tale of old-man-seduces-teen-girl has been a much-celebrated masterpiece, which is why it's curious that no U.S. label had thought to reissue the album before tenacious young Seattle indie Light in the Attic did. Though Melody Nelson has been widely available in various import forms for decades, this is the first to feel definitive — its liner notes are packed with researched essays, lively illustrations, French-to-English lyrics, and a 1971 interview in which Gainsbourg discusses the album.

An orchestral-funk concept LP, Melody Nelson opens with the oft-sampled "Melody." The bass slinks into earshot while Gainsbourg's deadpan vocals reek of sordidness and nicotine. Guitars spark orgasmically, but "Melody" is propelled by drummer Dougie Wright, whose sluggish, head-nodding beat practically invented trip-hop. The opener is the highlight, but Melody Nelson resists premature climax. Gainsbourg and arranger Jean-Claude Vennier continue to mesh sweaty funk grooves with majestic, sweeping strings over the course of the album's brief but satisfying 28 minutes. This info-stuffed reissue sheds new light on Melody Nelson, for sure, but its pleasures, like sex itself, transcend history and language. Light in the Attic's treatment makes all other reissues seem like uninterested hand jobs.

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Brian J. Barr

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