Histoire De Melody Nelson

Artist: Serge Gainsbourg
Released by: Mercury / Polygram / Philips
Release Year: 1971

Y’know when writing film or music reviews it’s a lot easier when you put something under the microscope that is bad. It’s easy to pick apart something that doesn’t work. It is much harder to review something that is good – and extending that even further, I find it nigh impossible to write about a masterpiece. Words simply fail me. And make no mistake, Histoire De Melody Nelson by the world’s favourite sleazy Frenchman, Serge Gainsbourg in a masterpiece. It is one of the best albums on the planet.

Even if you’re a fan of Gainsbourg’s other work like Je T’aime (with Jane Birkin) or Harley Davidson (with Brigit Bardot), nothing will prepare you for this. If the album has a flaw, it’s that it only has 7 tracks and only runs for 28 minutes – I find the cure for this is to always play it twice.

Histoire De Melody Nelson is a hard album to classify, but isn’t that the way music should be? For those who like labels, it’s a religious psychedelic jazz funk record. And it’s a concept album to boot. But don’t let that scare you. This isn’t an overblown rock opera. As far as I can make out, (because I cheated and watched the video version), the story is about a sleazy middle aged Frenchman who, while driving his Rolls Royce, knocks a much younger girl off her bike. He then takes her home – okay, okay, it’s not that politically correct these days, but remember this is only a record.

As I mentioned, there are only seven tracks, but the story and the sexual tension builds with each track. By the sixth track, ‘En Melody’ we are fully engaged in a playful sexual romp, with Jane Birkin giggling over funky, crunching distorted guitar. The album reaches a fever pitch for ‘Cargo Cult’ the closing track, which combines a funky bass groove with a 70 voice choir – pardon the clumsy analogy, but Histoire De Melody Nelson is the religious psychedelic jazz funk companion piece to Henryk Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony.

As I said at the beginning, it is so much harder to write a review of great music. Words can never do justice to sound and the theatre of emotions that this album evokes. This is one album you must listen to.

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