Mick Harvey – Waves Of Anzac/The Journey (Mute Records)

Mick Harvey may not be a household name, but the solo albums, collaborations, soundtracks, and musical accompaniment he’s been a part of since the late-’70s add up to a tremendous body of work. His latest release crams music from two separate projects together on one disc. The first is Waves of Anzac, the soundtrack to a documentary called “Why Anzac,” where actor Sam Neill recants episodes from his family’s history which dovetail with the history of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (aka ANZAC). I only have the soundtrack to review, and not the accompanying film, but the subject matter, and the tone of Harvey’s instrumental music (which includes titles like “The Cemetery,” “After The Bomb,” and “Modern War”) leads me to believe there’s a lot of tension in the story. The soundtrack has a lot of instruments, but it’s the meticulous string arrangements that are dominant throughout. There’s something beautiful, and almost classical in nature about the title track, but I keep coming back to “The Somme” which features a haunting piano melody that harkens back a bit to the mood of a few mid-’90s Bad Seeds songs. All that tension finally boils over on “Vietnam,” with jagged guitar noise conjuring up mental images of war-torn landscapes and brutal devastation.

The Journey is a four-part composition Harvey wrote and recorded with The Letter String Quartet, and originally released as a standalone download in 2019. It’s a soundtrack of sorts, but instead of accompanying a movie, these songs were recorded to support asylum seekers caught up in Australia’s offshore detention program. All the feelings of struggle and anxiety the detainees (i.e. prisoners) have is captured in these songs, which have a far more urgent and direct tone to them than the Waves of Anzac soundtrack. The final part of this four-song suite ends with vocals (the first on the album) emerging from the string section, perhaps offering a final sense of hope and peace after so much turbulence.

This isn’t music for everyone, but if you’re into atmospheric film scores, as always, Harvey’s got the goods.

Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Women (Mute)

It’s been over two decades since Mick Harvey released his first set of English language covers from Serge Gainsbourg’s catalogue, Intoxicated Men. Intoxicated Women is the fourth and final volume of these covers, and it wraps things up in a neat little bow while also throwing a few distinct curveballs at the core concept behind these albums. The biggest curveball is the focus on Serge’s collaborations with female singers, with 11 of the 15 songs tackled tracks Gainsbourg originally recorded with Bridget Bardot, Jane Birkin, Juliette Greco, and others. The other big surprise is that a few songs aren’t in English, which seems odd since one of the joys of these albums has been hearing the songs in English for the first time, giving non-French speakers a chance to appreciate the gallows humor and incisive wit in Gainsbourg’s lyrics. The press release even refers to Intoxicated Women as an album of “Serge Gainsbourg translations”…not “covers”. But, before you start taking to the streets with torches and pitchforks in protest, I’ll remind you that you can always get the English translations online, so it isn’t that big a deal; and besides, the German cover of “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus” with Andrea Schroeder and the Cambodian cover of “Contact” with Channthy Kak of The Cambodian Space Project are actually some of the better songs here. Left to his own, Harvey’s vocals are, as usual, a perfect surrogate for Gainsbourg’s. His tuneful half-spoken whisper accurately capture the melancholy of “Lost Loves,” the breezy innocence of “All Day Suckers,” and the bizarre storytelling of the album-closing “Cargo Cult,” where Harvey and band handle the funky orchestrations of the original all too well. If this really is the final volume of Harvey’s Gainsbourg translations, I’ll miss the series, but at least Intoxicated Women ends it on a high note.

Mick Harvey – Delirium Tremens (Mute)

A few years back I posted a positive review of a reissue of Mick Harvey’s mid-’90s Serge Gainsbourg covers albums – Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants – and now I have to praise it again since it inspired Harvey to revisit the concept almost two decades later with Delirium Tremens. The concept of Harvey recording English translations of Gainsbourg’s songs hasn’t changed, however Delirium Tremens exists in an entirely different cultural context. Back in the ’90s these albums were like a public service for music geeks since Gainsbourg’s albums were hard to find, and even if you snagged one you didn’t know what he was saying unless you spoke French. Of course, since then the internet has made everything readily available, so Delirium Tremens is now simply one good performer covering the songs of another. That it begins with a mid-70s obscurity called “The Man With The Cabbage Head” (or “L’homme a Tete De Chou”) tells you right off the bat you’re not gonna hear Gainsbourg’s best known material. Harvey’s already recorded most of those songs anyway, so instead he digs beneath the surface to find gold in obscurities. He does just that with a set of largely unfamiliar songs that showcase his natural fit as a Gainsbourg interpreter as well as the arranging skills he’s honed over decades working with Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, and his own solo projects. “Coffee Colour” and “Deadly Tedium” are both jazz cabaret, with witty lyrics and inventive playing from an interesting cast of backing musicians. “I Envisage” is a different beast altogether, with a none-more-black, almost Joy Division-like, performance that matches the bleak visions of Gainsbourg’s lyrics perfectly. “SS C’est Bon” is a Holocaust-era black comedy with rapid-fire lyrics that are hard to understand amidst the chaotic music, but worth looking up for a lesser-heard example of Gainsbourg’s warped genius. The album ends with Harvey and Katey Beale doing a stunning version of “The Decadance” which isn’t that far removed from the original, but is beautifully arranged all the same. It’s a perfect ending to a great album, and an exciting look ahead to Harvey’s fourth album of Gainsbourg covers – focusing on his work with female singers – planned for later this year.

Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Man/Pink Elephants (Mute)

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 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: