Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin ‘Jane et Serge 1973’ Super Deluxe Book Edition 2CD + DVD (Mercury/Universal France) 5/5

serge-gainsbourg-jane-birkinFor many Serge Gainsbourg will forever be remembered for the single ‘Je t’aime moi non plus’ and the album ‘Melody Nelson’. However, his career continued to flourish directly after both these and this is where this latest chapter in the homage to Serge and his muse Jane Birkin fits in nicely. The first album, ‘Di doo dah’, continues the collaboration between Serge and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier, dating from late 1971, and there is still something of a psychedelic feel to the recording which is by some distance the strongest and most consistent of Jane Birkin’s career to date. The title track is a song that has endured through the subsequent decades and is regularly reprised in a live context. Overall, the album has a lovely relaxed feel to it and that is probably an indication of how Serge felt about life at this point with a new daughter born in Charlotte. Of course he was still lyrically in both a playful and provocative mood and this is perfectly illustrated on ‘Les capotes anglaises’ (French slang for what is termed ‘French letters’ in English) and the irony of this message being delivered by a native English female singer and with the sweetest of orchestrations was very much in the Gainsbourg tradition harking back to ‘Les sucettes’. A strong candidate for best album song aside from the title track is ‘Kawasaki’ and here the use of minor chords and dramatic strings works wonders here. Country and folk hues are in evidence on a couple of songs with slide guitar and strings a curious combination on ‘Puisque je te le dis’ and folk-style harmonies in evidence on ‘Banana Boat’. A couple of bonus songs includes the salacious ‘La décadanse’ which Serge hoped would become a new dance form.

Gainsbourg’s own recording, ‘Vu de l’Extérieur’ from 1973 is an important stage in his life and career. It was recorded after he suffered a near fatal heart attack and is a different kettle of fish from Jane’s album with Vannier now departed and a new more intimate and stripped down instrumentation to the fore that is not without recalling the US/UK singer-songwriter recordings of the same era. It also features one of his subtlest and most melodic compositions in ‘Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais’ which was melancholic and a change from what preceded. Serge must have felt a new lease of life after so narrowly escaping death and there is plenty of the witty, humorous artist contained in the album song lyrics. Gainsbourg’s love of words is reflected in the difficult to pronounce ‘L’Hippopodame’ and in addition there is his child-like sense of fun on the rude but utterly hilarious ‘Des vents, des pets, des poums’ in reference the sound made by unpleasant smells emanating from the human body. An overtly sexual ‘Panpan Cucul’ is reduced to quasi-baby language while for lyricism and the capacity to bend and manipulate words at will, ‘Pamela Popo’ could hardly be bettered. Long-time Serge fans will be delighted at the plethora of bonus numbers with several instrumental versions, alternate takes and a 2014 remix of ‘Tout mon tout doux’. Sumptuous packaging in the super deluxe edition with family photos of the couple and a major bonus in a fifty minute DVD documentary in black and white, ‘A bout portant (Point blank)’ which conveys the era to perfection. Unfortunately, for non-French speakers this edition, aimed squarely at a French audience, does not contain subtitles in English. Future editions aimed at an international public will hopefully rectify this shortcoming.

Tim Stenhouse