It’s not the job of the wee books in the wonderful 33 1/3 series to give you a potted biography – they might also do that, but the chief concern is the album over the artist. We often find the two are inseparable when it comes to discussion; when it comes to understanding. There are already plenty of books on your library shelf about Serge Gainsbourg and if you want just one then I’d suggest Sylvie Simmons’ A Fistful of Gitanes, because Simmons is a great writer and because it deals in the events and the timeline, it plots out Serge’s life and music.
Here, in his assessment of/extrapolation from the album Histoire de Melody Nelson Darran Anderson takes cues from Simmons’ book – and others – and looks at this great cult album; this album that so many people discover – as either their first (and sometimes last) from the Gainsbourg world or at least always as something outside of their expectation when it comes to France’s most famous drinking man’s singer/songwriter.
Every time I listen to Melody Nelson it feels like a revelation and, lovingly, Anderson’s account of where the book came from – of how it came to be – reflects exactly that. And how fitting that an album that just scoots in under half an hour but bursts with ideas is written about in a slim volume that packs so much punch.
I’ll read anything in this series – I’ve so far read every book that’s been released, I might even therefore read the upcoming one about Kanye West’s bloated absurdity – but there are some duds. And there are some standouts. Anderson’s book is one of the good ones; it doesn’t downplay the absurdities of Gainsbourg as a big drinker, womaniser and sometimes embarrassment, but rather – without excusing those aspects – makes a case for him as a man besotted with life and with the chance to create music and art as his escape from the occasional confines. He also manages to place the album correctly as one that has gathered steam and speed with the passing of time; that is now the hip item to be found in many a student hovel and bedsit despite only selling modestly at the time of release.
For anyone already turned on to either this album or this series of books about classic/interesting albums Darran Anderson’s account of Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson is one to have and to hold, to dedicate yourself to; it’ll have you going back to the album for further revelations.