Serge Gainsbourg went tribal on his 1964 release, which prominently features a throbbing Afro-Caribbean rhythm, a dynamic female choir, and -- as its title suggests -- lots of percussion. The best songs are usually those that fuse precisely those three characteristics, although a couple of slower, more straightforward jazz tracks are sprinkled throughout the album.
"Joanna" opens the disc and sets both the tone of the lyrics -- often based Serge's experiences and many times dealing with a particular character -- as well as the type of music, a call-and-response style over feverish drumming. "Quand Mon 6.35 Me Fait les Yeux Doux" bops to frenetic jazz and gives way to a sax solo as Serge sews it all up in under two minutes. Bouncing along with acoustic guitar and punctuated with laughter by the title character, "Pauvre Lola" clops along to what sound like horse hooves (although they are more likely coconut shells, a la Monty Python). With its jaunty whistle prominent in the mix and bouncy rhythm, "Tatoue Jeremie" comes off like a sailor song for kids, and it may be the most ebulliently happy song Serge ever recorded. "Les Sambassadeurs" sounds like the merriest military march in history, with a jolly tuba rocking along as the female choir fills the chorus with cheery "la la las". Opening at the tail end of a jazz rave-up and interrupted by a brief flurry of applause before breaking into the main song, "Coco and Co" hilariously salutes his bandmates one at a time and gives everybody a chance at a solo in what comes off as a recorded snippet of a lounge act. Arguably the best on the disc, "Couleur Cafe" blends the kitchen sink percussion with a forcefully delicate guitar riff, then throws in the effective choir, and shimmies through the song with Serge in a delivery so expressive you can hear the smirk on his face.
There are a few lesser moments, although that is really not the best way to describe lovely songs that fail only to meet the high energy or rhythmic coherence of the rest of the disc. Stuck in the middle of an album that steams by with energy, "Machins Choses" is maybe too relaxed for its own good, a slow jazz number with haunting organ in the background. "New York - U.S.A." might have seemed like a clever idea at the time, and I guess there is a certain charm to it (not to mention the propulsive bongos and the energetic choir), but I sometimes wonder why the song was made -- it basically amounts to a cataloguing of buildings that Serge saw on a trip to New York.
All in all, though, the real complaint is that the album is so enjoyable that you can't stand when it finally ends at just over 28 minutes. Serge made a lot of short, excellent albums -- check out the well-known, masterful "L'Histoire de Melody Nelson," the nocturnal, percussionless "Gainsbourg Confidential," or especially the underrated "Gainsbourg No. 4" (which while exceptional, clocks in at a shocking 19 minutes!). This album really is a must buy, especially because you probably had to WANT to end up on this webpage and you must already be interested. So get to it and buy this album!