Serge Gainsbourg and Michel Colombier ‘Le Pacha OST’ LP (Wewantsounds) 4/5

The year 1967 was a busy one for singer and composer Serge Gainsbourg, and he was prolific on the film soundtrack front, involved in no less than seven films of which William Klein’s, ‘Le Pacha’, is the subject of this review. It ties in with both a Vinyl Day special release and with the current edition of the Cannes film festival. Gainsbourg worked with some of the truly great French arrangers, most of whom came from a jazz background. His early albums came under the expert arrangement of Alain Gorraguer, and he also recorded with Michel Legrand (when will someone finally re-issue his superb late 1950’s masterpiece Le Grand Jazz on Columbia?), so it should come as no surprise that Serge hooked up with keyboardist and arranger Michel Colombier, who would later score the odd fusion hit or two in the United States in the 1970’s. The sound on this soundtrack, with veteran actor Jean Gabin, the working class hero of the classic 1930’s Jean Renoir films (‘La bête humaine’), not to mention the Marcel Carné classics (‘Le jour se lève’) in the lead role, is above all psychedelic in tone. That is exemplified by a tasty pared down re-working of a former Hammond organ jazz combo original, ‘Requiem pour un con’ (‘Requiem for an imbecile’), that will be a hip-hop samplers delight. Drums and percussion alone accompany Gainsbourg’s now famous talk-over monologue, though he could still sing at this point. This and several other numbers come in their vocal and instrumental versions. Very much of its time, the sitar led, ‘Psychastéric’, has a funk-tinged bassline and percussion and is unquestionably an album highlight. Equally impressive and very soulful is a female vocal unnamed on the funky ditty, ‘No no yes yes’, and the singer returns for more on a barely thinly disguised cover of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ given a makeover and re-titled ‘Freedom Baby’. For a more left-field groove, the African influenced marimba and psychedelic rock instrumental, ‘Un Noël 67’ offers up a more diverse sound. Brazilian percussion devotees will immediately warm to the charms of, ‘Batucada meurtrière'(‘Deadly Batucada’), that exists here in two separate versions. Serge Gainsbourg was an iconic music figure in French music and for those interested in exploring an overview of his cinema soundtrack output, a three CD box set, ‘Le cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg’ (Universal France, 2001), should be your next port of call after this.

Tim Stenhouse