CD REVIEW: MICK HARVEY – Delirium Tremens
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
This, the third of former Bad Seeds multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey’s collections of the translated works of Serge Gainsbourg, brings an arty pomp to the famed French pop genius’s songs.
Gainsbourg’s arch-pop tunes – always more sophisticated than his drunken public antics would bear witness – are mostly musically reverential here. Harvey’s intimate knowledge of the material – surely an inspiration on he and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds – ensures he avoids the rookie mistake of playing up the suggestive nature of some of the lyrics: Gainsbourg always sang them straight, and they retain so much more power and provocativeness because of it.
The greatest boon for English speakers, of course, is understanding the complexities of the lyrics, possibly for the first time. Gainsbourg’s genius was such that his music was irresistible, language barrier or not. In our recent interview Harvey himself made the point that Couleur Café was not, as he thought, about black coffee, but about a coffee-coloured skinned woman. Thankfully Harvey and Lyndelle-Jayne Spruyt have laboured lovingly on the lyrics, ensuring they retain as much as possible of Gainsbourg’s original subtlety.
So respectful and meticulous is Harvey in his task, and so illuminating are these new versions, that it’s staggering this task hasn’t been attempted before. Harvey – with help from musicians including J. P. Shilo, Yoyo Rohm, Bertrand Burgalat, Toby Dammit, Glenn Lewis, Hugo Cran, and vocalists Xanthe Waite and Katy Beale do a sensational job, making it all look deceptively easy.
The second half of the album is dedicated to selections from the 1967 album about Anna Karina, Anna, but it’s in the first half, with the zany The Man With The Cabbage Head, the ‘70s French lounge groove of Coffee Colour, the Bad Seeds darkness of Nazi parody SS C’est Bon, and the Germanic dark cabaret of I Envisage that are the real gems here.
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