Aside from telling Whitney Houston exactly what he'd like to do to her in no uncertain terms on live television, Serge Gainsbourg is best known for his album Histoire de Melody Nelson and his relationships with gorgeous women like Jane Birkin. For my money, though, I've found L'homme a tete de chou, a prog/reggae/spoken word/rock opera that translates to “A man with a cabbage for a head” (named after a sculpture by Claude Lalanne that inspired him) to be his greatest achievement. Don't get me wrong, his duets with one-time lover Brigitte Bardot are phenomenal and very pretty, but this discovery is something else entirely: it's not pretty, it's not definable, but haunting, exciting and extremely unconventional.
It's an album that makes me sad not to know French; I just assumed he Serge was whispering naughty things throughout, but thanks to this review on Rate Your Music, I found it was much more complex than that:
“Another reviewer points out that this is an album about love.?Indeed, it's the story of a love affair, one that ends very badly for both parties.?Here's how it goes:
Boy falls in love with girl at first sight (“Chez Max …”); sings a sweet and gentle ode to her (“Marilou reggae”); enjoys a brief spell of unblemished satisfaction (“Transit a Marilou”); goes into incipient-psychotic rage when finds her enjoying a rock-star orgy (“Flash Forward”); retreats into his own world (“Aeroplanes”); determines to murder her (“Variations de Marilou”); smashes her head in with a fire extinguisher (“Meutre a l'extincteur”); sings another sweet ode — his first peaceful moment since the orgy — to his lover's dead body, now covered in foam from the fire extinguisher (“Marilous sous la neige” or “Marilou Under the Snow”); and finally goes irreversibly mad (“Lunatic Asylum”).?The whole affair is remembered in flashback from the lunatic asylum, where he is safely away from the world under the delusion that he is, in fact — as he intones with the album's first words — a man with a cabbage for a head (“Je suis l'homme …?? t?te … de CHOU!”)
The whole thing was inspired by a sculpture Gainsbourg owned — he's pictured admiring it on the album cover — of a man with a cabbage head.
The music is tight, prog-inspired rock.?The voice-over is classic.?The concept is uniquely “Serge”.?Every bit as good as the much more heralded “Histoire de Melody Nelson” — better in my book.
Undying thanks go to Sylvie Simmons for translating the broad outlines of the story in her GREAT book on Serge Gainsbourg, “A Fistful of Gitanes,” strongly recommended to anyone interested in this giant of rock.”
By far, the highlight of the album is Flash Forward, an intense and spaced out gem that, not surprisingly, marks the rock star orgy and psychotic rage portion of the story.
Gainsbourg is the god of manly sleazy geniuses, but he owes quite a bit to music composer Alan Hawkshaw whose work here is amazing. Hawkshaw is most popular for a song called the Champ that has been sampled by numerous hip hop artists for years.