Intoxicated Man is the first of Mick Harvey's tributes to French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. Released at a time when the icon was largely unknown outside his home country, the album offers 16 English translations. Years spent in a supporting role with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds taught Harvey the importance of yielding to the song. Whether preserving the original material or crafting intricate new settings of his own, the focus always remains on Gainsbourg, a man alternately lovelorn, satirical, and erotic.
Rollicking guitars and a rolling rhythm kick up dust on "Harley Davidson"; "I think less well of life than of my motor bike," snarls guest vocalist Anita Lane. Mock lounge jazz suits the title track's story of descent into drink. Persistent organs give much of the material a similar feel. Elsewhere, elegant string arrangements (courtesy of Bertrand Burgalat) sweep through the songs, vaguely dating them in a past era. Like Gainsbourg's originals, however, Harvey's versions have substance beyond mere kitsch value.
Gainsbourg seems to have had an obsession with American popular culture ("New York U.S.A.," "Harley Davidson," "Ford Mustang," "Bonnie and Clyde") and on Intoxicated Man, it's the fast living of guns, cars, and alcohol that lure him. His direct, dry humor and taste for satire are also evident throughout. "Chatterton" is all punchline, with Harvey reading off a list of suicide casualties -- "How 'bout me?" he asks, "Lately I don't feel good inside." "New York U.S.A." is an ode to the city that gets Gainsbourg "high, oh so high." Harvey tours the Big Apple with his female backup singers in tow, getting his fix from Rockefeller Center and the Pan American Building. Also included are examples of Gainsbourg's dark, erotic leanings on "Sex Shop" and the controversial "Lemon Incest."
Intoxicated Man serves both as a point of entry into the music-making of Mick Harvey and an accessible, highly enjoyable introduction to the universe of Serge Gainsbourg.