For more than 20 years, Mick Harvey has been the main collaborator and guiding force of Nick Cave’s career. From the Boys Next Door through the Birthday Party and currently in the Bad Seeds, Harvey’s multi-instrumental playing and arranging skills have often proven essential to Cave’s music. Though Harvey has lent his talents to other bands, including fellow Australian expatriate Simon Bonney’s Crime & the City Solution, and various session and production jobs (as well as scoring films), his two mid-’90s covers albums really summarize his musical passions and strengths.
With long-time collaborator Anita Lane serving as chanteuse, Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephants both reflect Harvey’s embrace of French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and offer a revised glimpse at the work of a key figure in ’60s European pop. As Harvey writes in the liner notes to Intoxicated Man, “The idea to make this record began from a combination of personal curiosity about Gainsbourg’s material (particularly his lyrics) and a growing bewilderment that his work is virtually unknown outside French-speaking countries.” The most jarring aspect of the two albums is that they are entirely sung in English. Though purists might consider this a betrayal of sorts, the translations (many by Harvey himself) give new insight into Gainsbourg’s music. On Intoxicated Man, Harvey takes artistic liberties with such Gainsbourg standards as “Harley Davidson,” “Ford Mustang” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Pink Elephants ties together the loose ends of Harvey’s fascination with Gainsbourg. Again, he does the bulk of singing and instrumentation, with assistance from Cave and Lane, whose duet on the erotic ballad “I Love You … Nor Do I” provides the album’s centerpiece.