Cult Classics: 'Histoire de Melody Nelson', Serge Gainsbourg (1971)

By Robert Webb
Friday 28 March 2008 01:00

Considered in the UK to be his best recording, Histoire de Melody Nelson continues, thematically, where Gainsbourg's hit "Je t'aime moi non plus" left off. Technically a concept work (albeit barely 28 minutes long), it was recorded in London.

Narrated in French, the bizarre, Lolita-like plot – teenage cyclist accidentally run over by middle-aged man in Rolls-Royce, whose seduction of her culminates in a plane crash in the jungles of Papua New Guinea – is secondary to the music and its accompanying TV special, which influenced rock performers from Portishead and Beck to Sonic Youth and Air.

Melody Nelson is divided into seven orchestrated segments, most lubricated by Gainsbourg's Gallic bedroom charm. Like "Je t'aime", it features Jane Birkin, who plays the progagonist. The arrangements feature some deep funk and bass riffs, courtesy of Herbie Flowers and Big Jim Sullivan, atmospheric strings and choral passages. The TV special featured Birkin gyrating to a wallpaper of psychedelia and surrealism.

Gainsbourg died in 1991. In 2006, the album was performed live at London's Barbican, featuring guest vocalists, Badly Drawn Boy and Gruff Rhys.

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