The Upshot: More Gainsbourg worship from the erstwhile Bad Seed, via deeply rewarding, lovingly rendered and astutely curated songs.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Mick Harvey and his fascination with all things Serge Gainsbourg has culminated with his latest work of art entitled Intoxicated Women, which bookends his four-album obsession that began with 1995’s Intoxicated Man. Released on the same day that Donald Trump was inaugurated, it’s as if fate had intervened to offer up something quintessentially French before the specter of freedom fries returns from the dead.
From the album, L’Etonnant Serge Gainsbourg, the track “Prevert’s Song” is beautifully rendered by Mick whose voice is almost a dead ringer here for Serge’s. Here the singing duties are shared with Jess Ribeiro. Her voice here is engaging and provides a tenderness that cuts through the melancholy lyrics.
“The Eyes to Cry”, which features Sophia Brous, another Aussie artist, is a tour de force that could be the closing song for a Sean Connery-era James Bond film. Originally sung by Nana Mouskouri to devastating effect, here Brous adds just the right amount of jaded beauty for a stunning outcome. In just three minutes the song details the painful unravelling of a relationship.
Mick Harvey, who shares PJ Harvey bandmate duties with another of my favorite artists, James Johnston from Gallon Drunk, seems comfortable as an elder statesman hired gun, as much as he is in taking the lead on his own records.
“Striptease,” which comes late in the album, is a sinister affair as sung by Andrea Schroeder. Here, the protagonist who has built up a wall around herself sings, “From my mouth until my stocking seams, not even you nobody, will lay their hands upon me”. It reminded me of the Mike Nichols film, Closer, where the go-go club dancer, played by Natalie Portman, provides steely resistance to Clive Owen’s character, who’s desperately trying to seek a deeper connection but ultimately fails. In the film, Portman doesn’t surrender an inch much like the protagonist in the song. This was also the moment in the album that I could hear echoes of Anita Lane from Intoxicated Man. Coming full circle in just under 21 years of time, I was astonished by how much of Gainsbourg’s vast musical output had been given a new lease on life via Harvey’s, musicologist, attention to detail.
The final track, “Cargo Cult” is an unbelievable masterwork that provides a sly way to end the album. The track, which skips along with twinges of psychedelic guitar, helps punctuate the dubious nature of a form of worship where materialism and religion combine into a sickly mélange of Mosquito Coast’s ice machine and Field of Dreams’ “if you build it they will come” philosophy. The French colonists left in places like Melanesia an impoverished population hanging on a dream that one day, material wealth would befall them. Sadly, they are still waiting.
Cargo cults have at their center a “myth dream.” Here, Mick Harvey has kept alive the “myth” about Gainsbourg as a lovable rogue, a drunk, a letch, and hopeless romantic to work its magic on future generations of listeners. Mick Harvey is such a superb artist that he has managed to thoroughly cloak himself in Gainsbourg’s music down to the cellular level. These deeply rewarding, lovingly rendered, and astutely curated songs are a joy to let slowly unfurl and coil around your every thought. Here, the painstaking translation work pays off because they sound completely natural and unforced. Mick Harvey deserves every accolade that will certainly be festooned upon this album for not only showing us Gainsbourg’s brilliance but his own as well.
DOWNLOAD: “Cargo Cult” “The Eyes to Cry” “Prevert’s Song” “Striptease”