Serge Gainsbourg

Rock Around the Bunker

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The sequence of brilliant, if somewhat unconventional, concept albums which occupied Serge Gainsbourg through the early to mid-'70s continues with an album which can be (and indeed has been) described as either a European reclamation of the pop potential of the Third Reich, following the success of Mel Brooks' The Producers, or an acerbic reclamation of a Jew's own humanity 30 years after the Nazis forced him to walk the streets in a bright yellow star. Or, and seen within the context of its maker's entire oeuvre, it might just be the slaughter of another of the sacred cows which Gainsbourg found so irresistible. His previous album, Vu de Exterieur, was dedicated to merde and pets; his next, L'Homme a Tete de Chou, tells the tale of an especially sadistic murderer. What more fitting, then, that in between times he should seize upon Adolf Hitler as a suitable theme. Recorded in England with a crack session band -- who themselves were probably cracking up as the vision unfolded before them -- Rock Around the Bunker is breezy, pop-inflected rock delivered, naturally, in precisely the same tones of honeyed lasciviousness and conspiratorial glee that Gainsbourg always employed for solo performances. Spy themes, pop hooks, rolling rhythms, and killer choruses -- all the tricks of Gainsbourg's trade are here, and if you don't speak French, it could be about anything. Right?

Wrong. From the opening squall of "Nazi Rock" with its girly chorus gaily trilling the title at every chance they get, Rock Around the Bunker is unequivocal in hammering home its subject matter, so much so that you will never be able to listen to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in the same way again. Now you know, from the preceding "Eva," that it's the one song which Hitler's lover used to sing which drove the Fuehrer mad. It's a shocker, then, but -- as always with Gainsbourg -- the intent is so draped in melody and intelligence that you have to work really hard to be offended. And if you'd put that much effort into something that negative, you probably shouldn't be listening to Gainsbourg in the first place.

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