Birthday Party and Bad Seeds guitarist Mick Harvey had been involved in a handful of soundtrack productions, but it wasn’t until 1995 that he released his proper solo debut album, Intoxicated Man. For this project, he decided to indulge himself in the music of Serge Gainsbourg, and the results were fantastic.
Both Intoxicated Man and its follow up Pink Elephants do something rare: they capture the essence of the spirit of a composer, while interjecting the interpreter’s own original style. But really, what these two albums do is something greater: they make a case for Gainsbourg’s greatness to those who don’t speak French. For the non-French speakers like yours truly, it’s nice to finally appreciate songs like “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Initials B.B.,” and “I Love You…Nor Do I.”
Thankfully, Harvey avoids one of the pitfalls of tribute collections, creating karaoke versions of the originals. In this case, you do occasionally lose something in the translation; the cheeky fun of the original version of “Comic Strip” is gone, as is the seductive beat of the extremely controversial “Lemon Incest.” He makes up for it in other ways, though; “Harley Davidson,” sung by Anita Lane, has a toughness the original lacked and “To All The Lucky Kids” is creepier than the original.
It’s good to have these two albums compiled together. They really are of a piece, enjoyable and superb pop music, giving a proper introduction to one of the centuries more enduring and controversial figures.