Audio Mixer: Lindsay Gravina.
In 1994, arranger, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey issued Intoxicated Men, his initial tribute to the music of Serge Gainsbourg. He was the first to render authoritative musical translations of the songwriter's notoriously difficult, pun-laden, alliterative lyrics in rhyming English. Harvey followed it three years later with Pink Elephants. The next year, Harvey and musical partner J.P. Shilo dug deeper into Gainsbourg's catalog for the typically excellent Delirium Tremens. Intoxicated Women marks his final volume of Gainsbourg tunes. As such, it seems only proper to look into the many songs he wrote for -- and sometimes recorded with -- female vocalists, among them Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot, Frances Gall, and Jane Birkin. Assisting Harvey are the brilliant singer/songwriter Andrea Schroeder, Xanthe Waite (Terry), Channthy Kak (Cambodian Space Project), Sophia Brous, Lyndelle-Jayne Spruyt, and Jess Ribeiro.
The opener revisits the Birkin/Gainsbourg single "Je T'aime...Moi Non Plus," but in German. Harvey cut it for Intoxicated Men with Anita Lane, but didn't sing. This is a full duet with Harvey and Schroeder that matches the original song's production cannily. The language translation reveals the universal appeal of its subject matter and the sugary, kitschy yé-yé pop melody. Schroeder also delivers "Striptease" -- originally written for Bardot -- with a darkly carnivalesque musical lilt, and "God Smokes Havanas" (Dieu Est un Fumeur des Havanes) with a typically excellent string chart by Bertrand Burgalat. Other highlights include "The Drowned One" (La Noyée), written for actress Anna Karina's television special and delivered expertly by Ribeiro atop a Café Saravah-styled rock combo fueled by electric guitar, organ, drums, bongos, and basses. Several songs from that score appeared on Delirium Tremens sung by Waite, who handles them with Harvey here. "Baby Teeth, Wolfy Teeth" (Dents de Lait, Dents de Loup) was composed for Gall. Harvey's arrangement features his son Solomon on lead vocals backed by Waite. Harvey employs a killer surf guitar line and pairs it with the organ vamp from ? & the Mysterians' "96 Tears." This track, like its predecessor, has never been recorded in English before.
"While Rereading Your Letter" (En Relisant Ta Lettre) was recorded by Gainsbourg, but it was a chanson cabaret hit for Barbara in 1969. Here it's delivered with a shimmering cinematic intro. As Harvey narrates, Brous offers a wonderfully reedy, off-kilter take on Barbara's melody. The delirious string trio and celeste create an almost nightmarish counter-texture. The closer is a reading of the classic "Cargo Cult" (Cargo Culte) from Melody Nelson. Its fuzzed-out psych guitars (Shilo makes them scream), rumbling acoustic pianos, and tight snares add noisy drama as Harvey narrates the apocalyptic action. He also sings as part of the dramatic backing choir that also includes Waite and Julitha Ryan (as Melody). Harvey sends off his final Gainsbourg project with the same spirit he introduced it with: savvy, humor, and an illuminating musical and literary spirit that defies anyone to follow him. Ultimately, it's perhaps the only kind of tribute Gainsbourg could -- or would -- accept. ~ Thom Jurek