During a period of downtime with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in the mid-’90s, Mick Harvey set about translating and recording two album’s worth of covers from Serge Gainsbourg’s thirty year discography, 1995’s Intoxicated Man, and Pink Elephants from 1997. These days Gainsbourg is a well-known figure, with a biopic and multiple tribute albums cementing his reputation as an influential artist. But back then his following outside of France was small, and his music difficult to come by. Harvey hoped to spread word of Serge’s brilliance beyond the confines of France with these albums, and translated the lyrics into English to let Serge’s non-French fans in on what the hell he was saying in those great (and often downright filthy) pop songs. Yes, in 2014 you can find and translate the lyrics to just about anything with a few mouse clicks, but back then it wasn’t so easy. With the exception of the translations, Harvey’s versions stay pretty reverential, keeping the melodies and much of the original instrumentation fully intact. Intoxicated Man is the more developed of the two albums, with Harvey employing a host of outside musicians to flesh out the songs. Most notable of these is Anita Lane, who handles the roles of Brigitte Bardot (including lead vocals on “Harley Davidson”, a Gainsbourg-penned number) and Jane Birkin. The leftover recordings from Intoxicated Man were released as Pink Elephants, with Harvey playing most of the music on his own, handling more instruments than any one man should know how to play. Once again Anita Lane does the female vocal parts, including a duet with Nick Cave on the sweeping love song (of sorts) “I Love You…Nor Do I” (or “Je Taime…Moi Non Plus”).
This new edition includes both albums, remastered, in one double-disc package. It also has two previously unreleased bonus tracks: a version of “Dr. Jeckyll” where Harvey swaps out the original’s swinging-sixties mod-pop for a surprisingly noisy Jesus and Mary Chain-ish reading, and an effectively tender “Run From Happiness”.
It’s great. Buy it. But first watch what happens when a drunk Serge Gainsbourg encountered Whitney Houston on live tv: