Serge Gainsbourg is criminally underrated outside France. Listening to this comprehensive best of compilation it is evident that there was more to him than the sleazy Gallic rogue that is stereotypically presented in the media. By contrast, ‘Initials SG‘ reveals Gainsbourg to be a restless sonic innovator. While his lackadaisical, half-spoken vocal style may be limited, Gainsbourg’s compositions are original and prescient. Many of his songs are based around carefully constructed loops of sound that suggest his popularity amongst pioneers of hip hop and breakbeat. I used to think MC Solar’s ‘Nouvelle Westerne’ was more layered in its use of samples but is in fact lifted almost in entirety from ‘Bonnie And Clyde’ – already a hypnotically repetitive loop of sound that predates conventional cut and paste techniques. This song and the likes of ‘Ford Mustang’ and ‘Qui Est In Qui Est Out’ are – like the films of the Nouvelle Vague – are early post-modernist high-jinx from a time when Tarantino and the likes were still in short pants. With their shouted pop cultural references and sassy disregard for convention, Gainsbourg was making a mish-mash of contemporary US culture before the Americans had thought of doing it themselves.
With a cast of muses from Bridget Bardot to Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg was a master of self-mythologising publicity, simulataneously iconic and ironic. But he should be given credit where it is due, for mixing so many styles (lounge, funk, jazz, Tropicalia, folk, and French disco all get a look in) into his weirdly uncoventional pop songs. There is even something of Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ about ‘Sous Le Soleil Exactement’. Fans of old-school hip hop, Bowie, DJ Shadow, Nick Cave, Portishead, Tricky and David Byrne & Brian Eno should find plenty to like on Initials SG, as well as fans of classic French and English pop from Joe Dassin to The Beatles.