- Personnel: Serge Gainsbourg (vocals, guitar, piano); L'Opera Comique, Jane Birkin (vocals); Jim Sullivan, Vic Flick (guitar); Jean-Luc Ponty (electric violin); Roger Coulam, Jean-Claude Vannier (keyboards); Brian Odgers (bass instrument); Dougie Wright (drums); Jeunesses Musicales of Paris (symphony).
- Audio Remasterer: Dave Cooley.
- Arranger: Jean-Claude Vannier.
- Brimming with lust, drama, and dark humor, HISTORIE DE MELODY NELSON is widely acknowledged as Gainsbourg's masterpiece. The 1971 release was criminally ignored outside France-despite the godfather of French pop's decade of cutting-edge songwriting. It's now something of a cult classic, and artists as diverse as Air, Nick Cave, and Portishead have all cited the album as an influence.
- Don't be put off by the "concept album" tag. There are no goblins here. Instead, Gainsbourg concentrates on his favorite subjects-sex and death. The story line concerns a chance meeting between a middle-aged man and a teenage girl that develops into a passionate affair. Never one to shy away from controversy, Gainsbourg plays his character with consummate sleaze. Remember, this man wrote the playfully obscene "Les Sucettes" for young, innocent France Gall (who thought she was singing about lollypops). Most of the lyrics are intoned in Serge's seedy seductive whisper, intertwined perfectly with the cinematic music. From the slow, smoky funk of "Melody" through intricately arranged ballads and the final apocalyptic "Cargo Culte" (featuring a 70-strong choir), there's never a dull moment. In lesser hands, this would be an overblown mess. MELODY NELSON, in its subtlety and invention, remains a testament to Gainsbourg's genius.
Spin (p.95) - "[A] bizarre, beguiling concept album....With progressive composer/arranger Jean-Claude Vannier's cinematically swooning strings, loping bass, and twangy guitars."
Q (p.44) - "[N]ow a firm cult favourite, this bonkers slice of Gallic dirty-talk offers a very different kind of French lesson."
Magnet (p.114) - "HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON's skeletal, jazz-like structure - with bass frequently playing the role of lead instrument - influenced a generation of indie-rock tastemakers."
Blender (Magazine) - "HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON is where Gainsbourg's provocateur streak takes on something resembling grand scale. Lush and languorous..."
Pitchfork (Website) - "The arrangements seem to respond almost intuitively to the twists in Gainsbourg's language and narrative, to the point where they're carrying as much storytelling weight as the words."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.90) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "Hired to backdrop Gainsbourg's spoken delivery, a whole host of British session musicians provided the rock element, while expert string arranger and medium-term collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier provided one of the most inventive, affecting orchestrations of a psych-into-prog era overdosing on them."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.90) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "28 minutes of art-house rock that still stands unrivaled in the history of all recorded music."
Signal To Noise (magazine) (p.78) - "[I]ts audacious blend of libidinous slow grooves, distorted rock guitar, and massive orchestration turned it into crate-diggers' gold."
Uncut (magazine) (p.100) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "MELODY NELSON is generally regarded as Gainsbourg's career high....Like LOLITA, HISTOIRE DE MELODY NELSON is a kind of oratorio of desire..."