MUSIC REVIEWS: Serge Gainsbourg, The Harlem Shakes, Obits, Jeremy Jay
Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson is considered the first French rock concept album. Recorded in the late 60’s, by a pop star who was as revered as he was reviled, this might be some of the most unique music you’ll hear. Recorded with cracker-jack musicians of the day: Roger Coulam keys, Brian Odgers bass, Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin, Dougie Wright drums and ‘Big’ Jim Sullivan and Vic Flick on guitar, “Melody” is basically a love story set to music. “Melody” the first tune, features Gainsbourg’s odd talk/singing vocal, distorted guitar, loose bass and drums. “Ballade de Melody Nelson” picks up a bit with some backing female vocal and solid orchestra counterpoint and “Valse de Melody” has Gainsbourg singing fronting only the orchestra.
He gets his ‘rock thang’ going though with “Ah Melody,” the truly smoking, “L’Hôtel Particulier” and the nearly instrumental “En Melody” (it has some naughty woman’s laughter amongst all the electric lead playing and bass/drum groove).
Celebrated by modern day artists like Beck (he ‘appropriated’ Melody’s orchestral arrangements and looping bass lines for his Sea Change album), there is no denying Gainsbourg’s unique approach, his huge talent and his wry pop sensibility. This is a guy who was only ever described as ‘ugly’ yet bedded Brigitte Bardot and wrote a song about their affair that was as much a hit as it was banned. Gainsbourg died in 1991 and this is the first domestic release of his masterful concept album; Histoire de Melody Nelson is a gem.
At times it’s hard to figure out why The Harlem Shakes is so bouncy and so joyful but with lines like, “we’ve got time to waste some time,” on “TFO” one just wants to join in. There is buoyancy to Technicolor Health, which is very much a light rock-sunshine pop album with a touch of an earthy, slightly blues feel. Each song has an effervescent ability to spin the listener into good times. Almost slightly reminiscent of REM’s 1998 Document album or a softer version of Soul Asylum, with the feistiness of The Bravery, Harlem Shakes has strong likeability. The band filters around the slightly off-kilter voice of singer Lexy Benaim. “Strictly Game” begins almost like an uplifting afrobeat tune, then folds into a catchy island jam of guitar and driving drum and totally worthy of major toe-tapping. Lexy’s voice sounds like a surf that runs through the length of this shoulder shrugging song beckoning for everyone to agree with the chorus “this will be a better year.” Indeed, it will be if The Harlem Shakes takes sole responsibility for adjusting everyone’s attitude.
Rick Froberg, formerly of Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes, is the sandpaper-throated frontman of Obits, a band churning out such refreshingly meat-and-potatoes rock and roll it’s hard to imagine an emerging band of twentysomethings matching its commanding energy, let alone a group of Froberg’s fortysomething peers. But then again, in its perfect balance of trimmings-free, immediately catchy guitar riffage and commanding vocal delivery, punctuated by a persistent and supportive rhythm section, Obits may be peerless. Eschewing pretentious posturing and the increasingly common urge to fuse disparate influences into an unnecessary genre-hopping combination, Obits instead puts every bead of sweat and drop of blood into perfecting, and owning as their own, the craft of rock and roll. “Widow of My Dreams,” “Two-Headed Coin,” and “Talking to the Dog” are dead-certain crowd-pleasers, while tunes like “Lilies in the Street” and the album-closing “Back and Forth” evoke The Replacements’ jangly slice of the 1980’s. Showing allegiance to the roots of rock and roll, Obits even throws in a blistering cover of “Milk Cow Blues,” a legendarily oft-covered song originally recorded in the 1930’s by Kokomo Arnold. This album will not disappoint.
Slow Dance, the new album by Jeremy Jay has definite traces of what made The Cure famous which makes the album really stick, though Jay refuses to ascend into total murkiness. With touches of eerie and winding synthesizers, weepy loner-boy poetry of a life in snapshots and soulful delivery through slowly sung vocals, Jay does a great deal of injecting a pleasurable amount of wistful optimism into his music. However, the music feels better appreciated and better heard in a dark room illuminated by candle light, Persian rugs over wood flooring and an opened window of nighttime. Each song pays homage to what feels like diary snooping, long-winding pop songs and Jay’s desire for a dance partner, more so, a lover. Even more, the singer’s yearnings are made exquisitely cool and hard to disengage from because of the music. Single vocals altered for a chorus effect, Jeremy Jay’s style is mostly lo-fi and sentimental. The endearing aspect is the heavy mid-tempo rock carpeting that kicks certain tracks into another space. “Gallop” has drum beats that mirror horses hoofs running alongside finger-snaps and a 70s pop guitar and a tapered low-end bass. Jay’s airy vocals are soft but atmospheric resembling Jim Morrison’s singing on The Doors tune “Crystal Ship.” The title track “Slow Dance” is a synthesized hazy soul tune that shimmers around like an 80s sweaty night club dance trance. Jeremy Jay’s saturation of mysterious and dark leanings infused with upbeat dejection makes the album enjoyable.