Jane Birkin ‘Mes Images Privees De Serge’ 2CD + DVD (Mercury/Universal France) 5/5

jane-birkinFranco-British relations would not be the same without the pair of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin and they were the in couple of the 1970s on the French side of the Channel. This beautifully put together anthology covers all the essential parts (with a few lesser known songs thrown in for good measure), but goes one step further with a forty minute DVD documentary on the personal side of the relationship that includes previously unseen family footage. It is worth remembering that even after the intimate relationship broke up around 1979/1980, the two still were good enough friends to record again and Jane Birkin was the one who still cared for him on a daily basis at the very end of his life and that included making him her own loving bowl of soup. Musically, the CDs are neatly divided chronologically between the early recordings written and produced by Serge from the late 1960s until the end of the 1970s on the first CD and the post 1980s and beyond period on the second.

An alternative take of ‘Jane B’ will appeal to long-term fans, but for the casual listener the classic period of hits are all here and they include the irresistibly catchy ‘Di doo dah’ from arguably Jane’s strongest album, ‘Ballade de Johnny-Jane’ and a virtual signature tune in ‘Ex-fan des sixties’ which evokes a whole era. Of course the provocative ‘Je t’aime..moi non plus’ is here as is the salacious follow up ‘La décadanse’ which, viewed from the present, now seems quite timid, but at the time was considered by conservative French society as a scandalous invitation to couples to dance intimately on the dance floor. Serge and Jane were only too willing to oblige and millions of couples, young and old. followed them hot on their heels!

The second CD is notable for the provocative ‘Les dessous chics’ and Serge loved using Jane as his muse for his more vivid explorations of musical erotica, though never in an exploitative manner and Jane was as much in on the frivolous escapade as Serge. More hits followed in the early 1980s with ‘Fuir le Bonheur de peur qu’il ne se sauve’ and ‘Baby alone on Babylone’ the pick of a pretty fine bunch. In 1990 a new album resulted in the hit ‘Amour des feintes’ which was the very last project Serge was involved in with Jane and a melancholic number of great beauty it is too. Noteworthy are the numerous live versions of songs that Serge himself first recorded with live performances from 1992 and 1996 included with Olympia ’96 another highlight. It is pity that space could not have been found for the Middle Eastern flavoured versions of Serge songs by Jane from the early noughties, but that just goes to show the breadth and quality of material available for the compilation. Otherwise an exemplary anthology from start to finish. A twenty page booklet contains many personal photos of the couple and Jane individually and these are perfectly complimented by bilingual notes by French musicologist Bernard Dicale. Vive l’Entente Cordiale musicale! Jane and Serge made a monumental contribution and show how British pragmatism and French flair do go hand in hand.

Tim Stenhouse