Album Review

Serge Gainsbourg - Number 4

Serge Gainsbourg

Number 4

Mercury

Release Date: April 9th, 1962

Words by: Whaley Big Jesus
May 22nd, 2012

7.5

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I don't speak French, but I know what Serge is saying. He's whispering sweet nothings' in my girlfriend's ear. He's telling us all about those endless Parisian nights. He's schmoozing and sleazing and divulging in a style that only a Frenchmen could pull off: there's perhaps no greater testament to the quality of an artist than one who has the power to emotionally involve the listener in the work, even when they don't speak the language.

What's great about 'Number 4' is that in many respects it encapsulates the eclectic nature of Serge's musical output in less than half an hour. In saying that, it's definitely not a greatest hits, it's more of a 'scratching the surface' of many different genres type affair; which in Serge's case led to a long-term chameleon-esque relationship with music.

'Number 4' finds Serge in his early stages of development as a songwriter, whereby the talent is evident, but the distinct direction is lacking. Opening track, 'Les goemons', could easily be the soundtrack to a creepy David Lynch dream sequence with it's halted rhythm and eerie instrumentation. But we then move on to tracks like 'Baudelaire' and 'Le cigarillos' which sound more like in-house music for a 1960's Caribbean cruise liner. And then we go into almost big band territory with 'Black Trombone', and then over to something that sounds like it was written for the Pink Panther Movies with 'Intoxicated Man'. There's no truly consistent thread with this record, and usually that would be a bad thing, but in Gainsbourg's case it's all delivered with a sort of nonchalant confidence that in some way makes it endearing. Not everything works, but everything has undeniable character and talent behind it.

The one consistent feature here is the quality of Serge's voice and phrase delivery, as evident on 'Vilaines filles, mauvais garcons' and 'La javanaise'. A French Leonard Cohen would perhaps be the best way to describe the man's vocal timbre. That being the case, I guess Serge could count himself lucky that old Leonard didn't take being from Quebec as seriously as some.

'Number 4' could be seen as somewhat of a coming of age record for a young man who would go on to become arguably France's seminal pop star. And although there are slip ups and tracks that just don't work here, there are also tunes like 'Black Trombone' that help to remind the listener of the quality that Gainsbourg was capable of, even in the early stages of his career.

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