LP  Review

Mick Harvey   ‘Intoxicated Man/ Pink Elephants’   (Mute)  CD/ Digital versions available now, Vinyl edition released on the 23rd June 2014

Creatively absent from sparring with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 2013, fellow founding member and stalwart Mick Harvey missed out on the group’s mid-life opuscule, Push The Sky Away: an album that surely marks a pinnacle in meditative requiems.


Yet, since leaving the ranks, Harvey has enjoyed a fruitful run of his very own. Despite being ignored by the majority of press and blogs, his charmingly understated Four (Acts Of Love) album of afflatus paeans and lamentable covers and original numbers, was wholly embraced by the Monolith Cocktail, the only blog, to our knowledge, to both critically endorse it and grant it a coveted place in a ‘choice LPs of the year’ list. In 2014, Harvey alongside Crime and the City Solutions’ Alexander Hacke and Danielle De Picciotto and musical director Paul Wallfisch, formed the nursery grime musical outfit, The Ministry Of Wolves, for a set of theater performances. By way of the Pulitzer Prize winning author Anne Sexton’s, even more, macabre revisionist take on the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the acclaimed stage production has also spawned a soundtrack LP, Music From Republik De Wölfe – reviewed favorably by us back in February. And now, we have the re-release, accompanied by live tour dates, of Harvey’s homages to the late great, salacious Gallic maverick, Serge Gainsbourg to once again fall in love with.


To coincide with the anniversary of Gainsbourg’s birth, Harvey’s 1990s moiety duo of tributes to the lecherous titan of cool, Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants, were trundled out on April 2nd. The vinyl versions are earmarked for the 23rd June. As a precursor to this celebratory push, Harvey and his band performed a selection of songs at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs curated ATP festival back in 2013. Threatening to forever bring down the curtain on this tributary oeuvre, he has recently been back out on the road, performing in his native Australia, the UK and throughout Europe, nailing the lid shut on his Gainsbourg infatuation for good with the last date on the 14th June in Tilburg, the Netherlands.


Not without reservation, Harvey an ardent fan, was persuaded and prompted to record a whole catalogue of cover versions whilst working with fellow Antipodean Anita Lane, in the mid 1990s. The sleepy-eyed coquette singer/songwriter, object of desire for Nick Cave during The Birthday Party and burgeoning Bad Seeds days, Lane proposed to record the post-coital ‘Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus’ in English; originally performed of course by Gainsbourg and his English muse, Jane Birkin.

Troubled by the inimitable quirks and idiosyncrasies, Harvey labored long and hard to translate the French into a less than preposterous English version: Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus as ‘I Love You…Nor Do I’ is no less steamy but Nick Cave, filling in for the nonplussed Gainsbourg, is a little too theatrical as the song takes on a less shrouded, more mooning, conversion. Truly egged on, Harvey expanded his horizons and eventually recorded enough material for two albums and more: left over and unreleased at the time, the sociopath loony, ‘Dr. Jeckyll’ and soft focus love tragedy, ‘Run From Happiness’ have been bundled in with this re-release.


But none of this would work without the quality of the supporting cast, who excelled. Channeling Gainsbourg’s leading ladies, Lane oozes that same knowing breathy sexiness, her entwined cooing dove vocals and comely sighs emulating the love nest fey Bardot and Birkin. Lane is joined in these misadventures by a qualitative backing of longtime collaborators, such as the already mentioned Cave, and newly appointed Bad Seed miscreant, Warren Ellis (both appearing on the 1997, Pink Elephants LP). Permeating and driving it all on are the lavish, though sumptuously tentative, string arrangements of French musician/composer Bertrand Burgalat, and former Orange Juice bassist, David McClymont.


The first of those suites, Intoxicated Man, doesn’t shy away from the hard truths, yet it is perhaps the lighter, popier and accomplished of the two records. Released in 1995, this hangover scoundrel of an album merges those blissfully unabashed dry-humping classics with its newly acquired 90s panache for European Yé-Yé, cutesy 60s nostalgia and, itself spurred on by reliving the golden decade, Britpop. However, Harvey also injects some of the more serious, Gothic-tinged, aspects of his infamous day-job band, into the pulchritude mix for good measure. Rather convincingly, Harvey’s intonations and impressions are quite good, and the English language versions of these iconic songs, capture the Left Bank spirit, never availed of Gainsbourg’s ever-present genius, but nevertheless offering a fresh take.


Huskily delivered by our troubadour and caressed by Lane’s sultry enchantress tones, the deadpan Harvey begins as he means to go on, with the opening double-entendre chanson, ’60 Erotic Year’. Flitting and flirting between erotically charged, metaphorical, pop and wanton lust, it proves the ideal introduction. Highlights are frequent, the chariot-to-the-gods, motorcycle riot, ‘Harley Davidson’, a petulant enough anthem of the ‘die young stay pretty’ variety – a rollicking union of Transvision Vamp and Saint Etienne -, just one of the many great three-minute bursts of rebel-rousing freedom. A predilection for auto-erotica persists with the arousing tribute to the Ford Mustang, and with the unfortunate plunge off the cliff road on the way to Monte Carlo, amusing ‘Jazz In The Ravine’ – ‘At dawn, they used a spoon to scrape up the remains.’


Harvey ups the ante on the carnival, rolling-conga fueled, ‘New York, USA’, and forlornly duets with Lane – stepping in for Bardot – on the fateful depression-era-most-wanted-on-the-run-Rom-com, and standout, ‘Bonnie And Clyde’. Bridget Bardot, whose fleeting but torrid affair with Gainsbourg left plenty of indelible marks, also inspired the album’s whirlwind, stabbing string, final affair, ‘Initials B.B.’, performed with brilliant understated morose.



Complimenting that first volume, the 1997 released, Pink Elephants, is a slightly darker proposition. It begins with the titular instrumental, a swooning cinematic teary-eyed lament, and is followed by the Massive Attack-esque, rolling trip-hop bassline and drum beat slinky, ‘Requiem’: Harvey with a Jarvis Cocker like contemptuous whisper, relishes the opportunity to sneer detestably, ‘You stupid cunt’.

Continuing to echo Gainsbourg’s morbid curiosity and the allure of dysfunction, Harvey tackles the pervy, voyeuristic, ‘Hotel Specifics’; warns the kids to stay off the hard drugs (‘don’t shoot-up that shit’) with wry cynicism, on ‘To All The Lucky Kids’; and as Harvey imitating Gainsbourg imitating Jacques Brel, tells a sorry tale of repetitive boredom and depression, as the suicidal ‘Ticket Puncher’.



From the earliest incarnations via the various troubled and sexually heightened duets, Harvey cast his net wide, choosing a varied feast of delectable and lustfully spurned soliloquies and contemptuous exchanges between lovers. Mambo to disco-noir, each manifestation of the troubled, often objectionable and drunkenly debauched, flawed genius’ work, is masterfully handled by the ensemble. Translating those quirks of language, phrases and cadence can’t have been easy, and though Harvey doesn’t exactly treat the source material with kid gloves or reverence, his dedication and love for Gainsbourg shines through every note and verse: It’s really quite an accomplishment and resounding success.



One Response to “ODB 074: Mick Harvey’s Homages To Serge Gainsbourg”

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