Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Women

Mick Harvey - Intoxicated Women

Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Women

Although many had actively willed Mick Harvey to deliver more of his masterful Serge Gainsbourg songbook makeovers after 1995’s Intoxicated Man and 1997’s Pink Elephants proved to be so illuminating and enduring, perhaps few of us really expected another volume in the acclaimed series, let alone two, twenty or so years on.  Although the risk of giving devotees a little too much of what they wanted surrounded last year’s Delirium Tremens sequel, for the most part Harvey succeeded in furnishing followers with further crafted English-language remouldings with fresh twists and clever turns.  The question is then; can Harvey pull it off yet again on this fourth and more multi-headed set?

Exploring more of Gainsbourg’s wider repertoire which – like Lee Hazlewood – extended beyond genre-hopping solo records and iconic illustrious duets, into film soundtracks, TV shows, one-off collaborations and songs-to-order for a raft of popstrels, Intoxicated Women doesn’t resort to discography barrel-scraping. With Harvey also enrolling the services of several – mainly female – guest vocalists and with a looser yet still assured approach this quatrième entry in the series is certainly not an obvious re-tread operation.

This is not to say that Harvey completely foregoes tackling some better-known – outside of France that is – Gainsbourg standards.  Revisiting the infamous trans-continental big-seller “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus” for the second time as the opening track – having previously appeared on Pink Elephants with guest Nick Cave trading whispers and groans with Anita Lane – is a slightly odd move.  However, resculpting it with Berlin songstress Andre Schroeder in a sumptuous German-translation take works strangely well and highlights the beatific musical invention beneath the near-pornographic vocals of the Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot-bolstered vintage versions.  At the other end of the album, “Cargo Culte” (from the endlessly influential Histoire De Melody Nelson LP) receives a faithful yet darkly squalling epic rendition with Harvey up-front for a terrific grand finale.

Yet in-between those two more recognisable bookends resides deeper catalogue mining extractions, which hold plenty more interest and some quite sublime performances.  Several onetime Frances Gall-sung subverted-pop curios are certainly instant highlights; with “Les Sucettes” having its double entendre lyrics rendered decidedly darker through Harvey’s murmured tones, “Poupée De Cire, Poupée De Son” receiving a rousing galloping reading with Xanthe Waite (of Harvey’s touring ensemble and melodic post-punkers Terry) handling serene vocal duties and Harvey’s son Solomon heading-up the slightly cartoonish brass-powered charge of “Dents De Lait, Dents De Loup”.

Elsewhere, in the more elaborate environs of the collection we find former Bardot solo nugget “Contact” undergoing an icy motorik-pop refit (featuring Waite joining Channthy Kak of Cambodian Space Project on vocals); “Striptease” (formerly recorded by both Juliette Gréco and Nico) receiving a shadowy late-night rebirth with Schroeder at the helm; and the Waite-sung “Les Petits Boudins” bringing-in a twangy piece of risqué mischief.

Alongside the more ornately-arranged pieces, Intoxicated Women also gives space for more stripped-down representations which give the album its more warm-heartened and dry-witted moments.  This includes a gorgeous Harvey and Jessica Ribeiro unplugged duet reading of “Chanson De Prévert”; a Harvey/Schroeder-voiced rendering of the nicotine-worshipping “Dieu Est Un Fumeur Des Havanes”; the perverse dark humour of “En Relisant Ta Lettre” (a Harvey duet with Sophia Brous); and a mordant piano-led Harvey-voiced “Les Amours Perdues”.

Like Serge Gainsbourg’s contrarian career as a whole, there are lot of hidden profundities and canny pleasures to decipher and uncover here.  This makes Intoxicated Women a dense yet rewarding affair, which should satisfy and intrigue hardcore Mick Harvey fans and Sergeologists alike for some time.