Art Rock Reviews Column

Chris Roberts samples the new releases on the prog/rock boundary.

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Off-kilter production, simplistic but seductive bass, sloppy drums, bursts of strings: it can only be Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier. A “lost” 1969 soundtrack from the duo whose influence on breathy French music is incalculable, Les Chemins de Katmandou (Finders Keepers) is released for the first time. Found in the suitcase of a deceased friend, these master tapes had attained Holy Grail status. The film they scored is a forgotten “smacksploitation” Jane Birkin vehicle, but the Vannier- Gainsbourg crew play with that deceptive laziness which makes everything sound bigger than life. From Eastern classical to porny funk, even if Serge doesn’t actually do much, it’s a treat for those of us who are hysterical about L’Histoire de Melody Nelson.

Meanwhile Serge’s daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg has her own new album out, and shot the video for Lying With You in his old house. Rest (Because) attracts starry guests, from Paul McCartney to members of Daft Punk and Arcade Fire, yet it’s primarily a hazy, post-coital wash of colours. Long established as a bold artist in her own right, she’s never averse to experimentation, on screen or on record, and this – touching on alcoholism and her father’s death – showcases her rich reveries.

Joan As Police Woman alchemises reveries to revelations, and her cathartic sixth album Damned Devotion (Play It Again Sam) may be her best yet. It’s as if she’s found a spiritual link between Memphis soul and US indie which nobody else discerned, her voice lovelorn but flecked with golden light as she sings of Jean Genet and warning bells.

After her, Emily Parker’s vocals on husband Owen’s album as Parker’s Band, Our Hands Are Tied (Green Nova), are oppositely understated. Owen’s worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Simple Minds to Girls Aloud, and is a crafty songwriter, but this loses pace after the exciting guitar solos on opener If I Had A Therapist.

More spark is shown by John Moore on the hell-raising Knickerbocker Glory (Germ). The former Mary Chain/Black Box Recorder guitarist delivers a scorching solo album which finds a way for 70s glam pop, rockabilly, sleaze and wide-eyed innocence to cohabit with witty, ironic lyrics. Philosophy, art and stonking riffs join in and the naughty-but-nice net result is impishly invigorating.

You’ll need a wash afterwards: thankfully the classiest of class acts Cousteaux (nee Cousteau) return from a decade’s silence with an X added on their name. Cousteaux (Silent X) again proves that nobody’s better at tilting the Walker Brothers’ lush ballads blueprint, and Davey Ray Moor’s songs and Liam McKahey’s voice coax beauty up from the deep.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.