Our guide to the Serge Gainsbourg resurgence

Pub date June 12, 2009
WriterMarke B.

The true masters never go away, but there’s no denying that Serge Gainsbourg is experiencing a posthumous resurgence of late, one that rivals his Gitane-perfumed popularity in the mid-1990s. This go-round, the emphasis is on Out moments more than pop tracks. Here’s a Playlist guide to the latest touchstones.

Serge Gainsbourg, “Aux Armes … “



Aux armes et cætera

(Universal, 1979; 4 Men With Beards, 2009)

Gainsbourg went to Jamaica in the late 1970s and made a full-on reggae record. It’s not a novelty at all — in fact, it might be my favorite record of his. Its sizzling, simmering, summertime sound is about as sultry and seductive as any record could dream to be. The equivalent of sinking deep into warm sand and never wanting to wash it off. (Irwin Swirnoff)




(Philips, 1970; Philips vinyl, 2008)

Saint Etienne kicked off its peerless 2004 contribution to the mix series The Trip with the glam title number of this motion picture soundtrack. The overall album is a rangy delight, benefiting from the fact that it isn’t as strictly conceived as some of Gainsbourg’s other recordings. Highlights include punky blues struts, symphonic hints of his work with Jean-Claude Vannier, tablas-based rhythmic walkabouts, and the occasional soft-core duet between a humming femme and an organ — by which I mean a Hammond keyboard, silly. (Johnny Ray Huston)



Histoire de Melody Nelson

(Philips, 1971; Light in The Attic, 2009)

Why it’s taken Melody nearly 40 years to get a domestic release remains a mystery, since everyone from Massive Attack to Beck to Portishead has borrowed from it in some way. A perverse tale of forbidden love and tragic death, it is not only Gainsbourg’s finest studio concept, but an epic collaboration of rock band and orchestra. Its combination of doom-laden bass progressions, sinewy acid guitar, and soaring strings remains unparalleled in terms of exquisite execution. (Scott Hewicker)