Multi-Lingual Lullabies and Love Duets to a French Mainstay
Mick Harvey’s Intoxicated Women opens with the sultry, whisper-sung “Ich Liebe Dich…(Ich Dich Auch Nicht),” a translated rendition of the French, “Je T’aime…(Moi non plus),” a tantalizing recitative with breathy, sensual vocals and mellow synths. This track – even for one who doesn’t speak German – is heavy with sex and sentiment. Harvey’s newest collection is the fourth and final installment of a series translating the lyrical and poetic works of French songwriter and artist Serge Gainsbourg.
“All Day Suckers (Les Succettes)” is a narrative folk ballad, almost a lullaby, that might pass you by if you’re not listening mindfully, but seeks to remind you of “the color of happier times.” “Contact” is a much more electric track, with echoing backing vocals and graceful code-switching in heavily accented French and English. “Prévert’s Song” (read that again) returns to the lullaby ballad, referencing the popular song “Autumn Leaves,” which is often rendered in French. The lyrics here are in English but are accompanied by a guitar that is evocative of somewhere far abroad.
“The Eyes to Cry (Les Yeux Pour Pleurer) is a darkly emotional, female-led lamentation of heartbreak and catharsis, sounding like something out of a Webber musical. The frequent use, throughout the album, of female vocals alongside Harvey’s rich folksy tones is parallel to Gainsbourg’s propensity to work with talented female artists – as well as being an obvious tie to the album’s title.
“Puppet of Wax, Puppet of Song” continues the building percussion introduced in the previous track, taking an interesting turn towards a cabaret-punk style. “Baby Teeth, Wolfy Teeth” is still more raucous, with a keening, growling backing and matter-of-fact vocals reminiscent of Morrissey. Harvey returns to the whispering folk vibe with “God Smokes Havanas”, and then re-employs the earlier sensuality and recitative on “While Re-reading Your Letter.”
Harvey relies respectfully on his female co-vocalists, and traps immense emotion in his duets. The album has a considerable sensuality that does not hang its hat simply on the heavy French accents, but instead on the vocal quality of Harvey’s duet partners. The driving “The Homely Ones” pays homage to French popular sound as well as American blues and country. The emotion returns on “Lost Loves (Amours Perdue),” again evoking Morrissey and other brooding male rockers. “Striptease” opens with guitars suggesting a snake-charming, and continues the heavy-handed sexuality which permeates much of the album.
Altogether, “Intoxicated Women” trades and alternates between the sensual and the sleepy, with folk as well as pop, jazz and even punk influences. It deliberately utilizes French vocalists and their accented language, which contributes to the overall mood of the work and creates an interesting tribute to a prominent French artist.