When you think about eccentric French singers, Serge Gainsbourg is probably the first guy who comes to mind for most of us. But another gent who equaled Serge in weirdness, propensity for attention grabbing stunts and talent was Michel Polnareff. And while there isn’t a Polnareff tribute show planned for the Hollywood Bowl this summer like Serge (though Polnareff is alive and well living in L.A.), his music is well worth checking out.
Polnareff’s story is interesting enough to fill a good sized biography, but here are a few highlights. His first hit, “La Poupee Qui Fait Non” came in 1966 featured session musicians, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. He embraced the counterculture, pushed conservative boundaries, and was frequently the victim of censorship. His sexual ambiguity and androgyny led to some lunatic actually attacking him on stage. He struggled with depression and had eye issues which eventually led to him adopting those trademark white sunglasses. His mentor and close friend, who signed him to his first record deal, committed suicide. His manager/financial advisor stole all his money, leaving him with a tax bill he couldn’t afford, forcing him into exile in the United States.
A generic Youtube search for Michel Polnareff leads to some ridiculous clips that might spiral you into a serious k-hole. A much better entry point to Polnareff is his 1971 album, Polnareff’s. It’s an album that’s so incredibly ambitious, schizophrenic and full of ideas that it takes about ten listens to even begin to wrap your head around it. The first track, “Voyages,” sets the musical roadmap for the rest of the record as it shifts from traditional orchestral, film score terrain into groovy piano, before ending with a slightly sinister sounding tape manipulation at the end. It’s subtle, but foreshadows the weirdness that’s about to ensue. Dramatic piano, frenetic horns, and vocals (not to mention absurd lyrics, if you happen to speak French) quickly assault you on the second track, “Ne Dans Un Ice-Cream.” By the time the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band sample hits at the two minute mark, you know you’re already way off the rails. I could go on, but some things are best discovered on your own….
In short, Polnareff’s is ambitious, risk taking, well produced, baroque pop music with a sense of humor (not adjectives that usually go well together). Have a listen below, and be sure to check out Luna’s cover of “La Poupee Qui Fait Non.” words/ duke logan
MP3: Michel Polnareff :: Né dans un ice-cream
MP3: Michel Polnareff :: Hey You Woman
MP3: Luna :: La Poupée Qui Fait Non (Michel Polnareff)