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Dirty and Bored: Serge Gainsbourg Revisited

Fifteen years after his death, Serge Gainsbourg remains legendary.
Fifteen years after his death, Serge Gainsbourg remains legendary.

Fifteen years after his death, Serge Gainsbourg remains legendary as the louche bard of sixties Europop, not to mention the inebriated Frenchman who once propositioned a teenaged Whitney Houston on live television (a moment now enshrined forever on YouTube). Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited, a new tribute album, turns a cross-section of contemporary artists — Cat Power and Michael Stipe among them — loose on English-language versions of some of his best-known songs.

Gainsbourg had a natural gift for sounding both bored and irrepressibly dirty, which these days is a mixture mastered by Leonard Cohen and virtually no one else. Consequently, the best tracks on Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited come from artists who don't try too hard to cultivate Gainsbourg's air of detached lecherousness.

Because Franz Ferdinand is a vaguely arty Scottish rock band, its disdain, at least, comes naturally. Its members turn "Sorry Angel" — Gainsbourg's tinny, mostly spoken-word meditation on regret — into a mostly sung dance-floor romp, complete with vintage cooing by Gainsbourg muse (and Hermes bag namesake) Jane Birkin. The result is a hypnotic, thumping ode to love and death, performed with an air of ennui Gainsbourg would likely have appreciated.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Allison L. Stewart
Allison Stewart is a writer living in New York. It's entirely possible to see her work in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, No Depression, Rolling Stone or any number of other places. Or to miss it entirely, which is just as likely.