Histoire de Melody Nelson
Light In The Attic Records
A few years ago I visited the Musée Des Arts et Métiers in Paris, where I learned the French not only invented cinema, but the motor car, radio, television, and computer-aided design. According to the press material on this reissue of Histoire de Melody Nelson, they also came up with the concept album. Tres magnifique!
Serge Gainsbourg was the classic French artist of the post-war years — an arrogant, dissolute, chain-smoking genius with a fascination for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. He broke up with Bridget Bardot (now THAT’S existentialism!) and became involved with Jane Birkin, who appears tastefully topless on the cover dressed as the sort of underage temptress that would guarantee an ankle bracelet and a prohibition from living within half a mile of a bus stop these days. This 1971 album told the story of a wealthy middle-aged man who hits a 12-year-old girl on her bicycle, then falls in love with her, does the deed, and then she flies off to a foreign land only to have her plane crash, thus preserving their love as a perfect ideal for all time. If that’s not a 12th-century chanson d’amour, I don’t know what is.
Unless you’re fluent in French, you’ll have to read the dense text in the accompanying booklet (or downloadable PDF) describing Gainsbourg’s life, comments on the songs, and interviews and art work from his producers and friends. By today’s standards, this is no anthem of rock, but a nicely melodic disc that sounds like the background sounds in a strip mall restaurant that calls itself “Chez Paree.” Regarded as a powerful influence on many mid-’70s prog rockers, today it’s a nearly forgotten relic of the age of vinyl. The story and songs are pleasant, and the dense liner notes are entertaining if not enlightening. Even if you don’t dig the sound, Google his biography and see what you missed way back when.
Light in the Attic: www.lightintheattic.net