Brimming with lust, drama, and dark humor, HISTORIE DE MELODY NELSON is widely acknowledged as Gainsbourg's masterpiece. The 1971 release was criminally ignored outside France-despite the godfather of French pop's decade of cutting-edge songwriting. It's now something of a cult classic, and artists as diverse as Air, Nick Cave, and Portishead have all cited the album as an influence. Don't be put off by the "concept album" tag. There are no goblins here. Instead, Gainsbourg concentrates on his favourite subjects-sex and death. The story line concerns a chance meeting between a middle-aged man and a teenage girl that develops into a passionate affair. Never one to shy away from controversy, Gainsbourg plays his character with consummate sleaze. Remember, this man wrote the playfully obscene "Les Sucettes" for young, innocent France Gall (who thought she was singing about lollypops). Most of the lyrics are intoned in Serge's seedy seductive whisper, intertwined perfectly with the cinematic music. From the slow, smoky funk of "Melody" through intricately arranged ballads and the final apocalyptic "Cargo Culte" (featuring a 70-strong choir), there's never a dull moment. In lesser hands, this would be an overblown mess. MELODY NELSON, in its subtlety and invention, remains a testament to Gainsbourg's genius.
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