One of the horniest albums ever recorded, Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson is a 28-minute exhalation of libidinous longing. The album tells a Lolita-like tale, partially autobiographical, of the middle-aged musician’s fantasies about, and consequent seduction of, a 15-year-old girl named Melody Nelson, whose bike the man hits with his Rolls Royce. With Herbie Flowers’s lubricious basslines keeping rhythm like an adroit lover and the sprawling yet sparse lead guitar arriving in fits and those string sections swelling orgasmically and the whispery spoken word narration telling sleazy stories, the album has the odd ability to arouse and discomfort in about equal measure. Gainsbourg had, by the age of 40, conquered chanson, jazz, and pop music; Melody Nelson, which could be considered his first rock record, is, like all of the French singer’s early ’70s work, beholden to no genre or formula — and to no social mores. Gainsbourg’s 1969 song “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” was suffused with the orgasm moans of his lover Jane Birkin (who graces the cover of Melody Nelson, bare-chested and holding a child before a baby blue background), but somehow it’s the middle-aged man’s intoning here on Melody Nelson that feels dirtier, more mournful. He always sounds like he’s about to cum but can’t quite get there: “A little animal / That Melody Nelson / An adorable tomboy / And such a delightful child / Who I only knew for a moment.”
Just the sound of the vowels and consonants pouring from between his cigarette-stained teeth have an unabating salacious feeling.
But one need not speak French to appreciate Gainsbourg’s wry wordplay and eloquence. (You can always count on a horny man for a fancy prose style.). Just the sound of the vowels and consonants pouring from between his cigarette-stained teeth have an unabating salacious feeling. “L’hôtel Particulier” describes the sordid hotel room where the man and child’s carnal activities take place: “If it’s available, say that you want room forty-four / They call it here the Cleopatra room / Where ebony bodies holding torches / Cover the rococo style bed columns.” But it’s the funky bass, Gainsbourg’s voice, sounding on the cusp of great release, and the lush strings that tell the story. As Humbert Humbert said, “Words without experience are meaningless.”
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.