Serge Gainsbourg

Vu de L'exterieur

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Serge Gainsbourg's fascination with the noisier bodily functions has been well-documented, both by his biographers and by his own records. Who else, after all, would commission Sly & Robbie to lay down their earthiest, dubbiest reggae rhythm, then punctuate it with nonstop farting noises ("Evguenie Sokolov" from 1981's Mauvaises Nouvelles des Etoiles album)? Who else would write a novel about a gas-stricken painter who turns his body-burps to his artistic advantage? And whose else could conceive an album dedicated in its near-entirety to...well, the song titles tell that story: "La Poupee Qui Fait" translates as "The Doll That Goes to the Toilet," the title track documents the messier consequences of anal sex, and "Des Vents, des Pets, des Boums" means, simply, "Wind, Farts, Booms." "Titicaca" is, of course, smuttily self-explanatory. So, it's dirty, filthy, scatological fun, but it's all wrapped so smoothly, so sweetly, and so irresistibly seductively that even the backing musicians -- a team of crack English musicians led by Alan Hawkshaw -- were not aware what he was singing about. The melodies are as lush as any, the performances as immaculate, and the soundscapes as varied. Vu de l'Exterieur ranges from gentle rock to mild funk, from dreamy ballads to heart-stopping tunefulness, and it's all delivered so romantically straight-faced that one cannot help but shudder for all those suave non-French-speaking lotharios who woo their ladies with low lights and Gainsbourg. "Sensuelle et Sans Suite" might feel like a beautiful Beatlesque ballad, but that's where the resemblance ends. Lyrically, it laments -- you guessed it -- the barrage of flatulence that bedeviled a one-night stand. It is a joyful album and one of Gainsbourg's best, edging the critically acclaimed (but possibly overrated) Melody Nelson and possibly nudging Aux Armes Etcaetera. And higher praise than that would be difficult to find.

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