Jane Birkin

Di Doo Dah

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On her debut solo album, English-born actress cum chanteuse Jane Birkin asserted her role as a scandalous androgyne courtesy of the songs of Serge Gainsbourg and arranger Jean-Claude Vannier (who co-wrote some numbers with Gainsbourg). Birkin allowed her image to be molded by the willfully scandalous Gainsbourg, who understood her persona entirely and helped to create an image of her as woman in a young boy's body -- one that Birkin claims she held all along but only Gainsbourg understood. That woman played roles both innocent and decadent; she was celebrated in film, but in the U.S., her thin voice resembled a choirboy's and underscored her physical presence. Birkin first appeared on a remake (yet an originally released version) of Gainsbourg's "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" the breathy, mewling, steamy song that brought all of French philosopher Georges Bataille's notions of an impossible yet inescapable erotic love to the fore. She shared billing with Gainsbourg on that album and others. This set, reissued almost 40 years after its initial release, and for the first time in North America by Light in the Attic, is wonderfully remastered, contains an interview with the singer in the liner essay by Andy Beta, full lyric translations, and a pair of bonus tracks from two years earlier, "Le Languages du Chant" and "Le Decadanse," a duet with Gainsbourg (with an organ arrangement borrowed from Bach). Birkin's a one-trick pony as a vocalist, but extremely effective. Whether she's the helpless, innocent Catholic schoolgirl of the title track who is ultra body conscious but nonetheless voices erotic longing, the faux innocent yet seductive and stranded hitchhiker on "Help Camionnerur," or the more overt sexually aggressive libertine in "Mon Amour Baiser," her words and expressions, no matter how innocently they appear, are smoldering. Part of the appeal -- at least -- is the musical palette created by the wizard Vannier. His use of a full string orchestra, acoustic and electric guitars, a trademark, ever-present thumping electric bassline, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and acoustic pianos, Farfisa, Vox, Hammond, church organs, and a steady processional with a playfully unobtrusive drum kit, weds the music of cinema to modernist rock, country, and blues-rock sensibilities (check album closer, "C’Est La Vie Qui Veut Ça" ). This set is revelatory, an offbeat sensual pop masterpiece that holds up spectacularly nearly half-a-century later.

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