Je T'Aime… Moi Non Plus

Writers - Serge Gainsbourg
First released - 1999
Original album - We Love You (various artists)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with single "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More"; bonus disc with the U.S. "special edition" of Nightlife

This track—which first appeared on We Love You, a rare 1998 compilation created as part of a collaboration between cutting-edge visual and musical artists, and which later served as a bonus track on the "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More" CD single—stands out in three ways:

  1. It features British photographer/videographer Sam Taylor-Wood as guest vocalist;
  2. It's one of the strangest duets ever recorded; and
  3. It's probably the only PSB track that I would have refused to play for my mother since the damn thing is virtually pornographic.

Written by French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, the original recording was a 1967 duet between Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot that remained unreleased until 1986. The first released version was Gainsbourg's duet with actress Jane Birkin in 1969. It hit #1 in Britain despite (or, more likely, because of) being widely banned there and in many other countries around the world for its overtly sexual content. It has since been covered by numerous artists, perhaps most famously in 1978 by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder for the Thank God It's Friday soundtrack.

Like the original and nearly all cover versions, the PSB version is heterosexual—well, in a manner of speaking. You see, Sam Taylor-Wood is (for those of you who wouldn't otherwise know) a woman, and taking the co-vocal duties is reportedly a Macintosh computer—although one might also suspect a disguised Chris Lowe. This second voice is rendered in a heavily distorted monotone that sounds more like a machine or perhaps a space alien than a human male. So the cooing, gasping Ms. Taylor-Wood and the emotionless machine/alien repeatedly exchange the provocative line "I/You go and I/you come between your/my thighs" (the pronouns shift depending on who's saying it), with a few other sentences like "Our love is without guilt" tossed in for good measure. It all builds up to what can only be described as an orgasmic climax, with the woman panting "I'm coming!" before collapsing in moans of ecstasy.

So what is one to make of this? Is it indeed an orgiastic celebration of heterosexual passion? But then why the outlandish treatment of the male vocal? It this track actually meant to parody heterosexuality? Or does it parody the common male role in heterosexual relationships, with the man viewed as a "machine" or an "alien" in relation to the woman? It's up to listeners to decide for themselves. In fact, one of my site visitors has suggested that maybe this "machine" isn't really a man or any other living creature at all, but rather a "sex toy" that the woman is using, shall we say, to pleasure herself. From this perspective, the "male" part of the song is only part of a masturbatory fantasy.

As I said, it's certainly open to interpretation.

Long before the Boys got ahold of this song there had been speculation as to what the title means in English. "Je t'aime" is obviously "I love you"—no problem there. But the challenge lies with "moi non plus." Literally it translates "me not more," but idioms are surely involved. It has been variously translated as "either me," "me neither," "neither do I," and "nor do I" as well as the literal "me not more," none of which seem entirely satisfactory. Gainsbourg was notorious for his French wordplay that sometimes bordered on nonsense. He once told an interviewer that the song's title was a take-off on something Salvador Dali once said in comparing himself to Pablo Picasso: "Picasso is a genius … me, too. Picasso is Spanish … me, too. Picasso is a Communist … me, neither." Therefore "I love you … me, neither" is probably the most accurate translation of Gainsbourg's intentions. The Pet Shop Boys, however, translate it more sensibly, if more loosely: "I love you … but not more than me." Of course, the meaning of that particular bit of English is also widely open to interpretation. Would you expect anything less?

Some fans, incidentally, have detected in this track a strong stylistic influence of the French electronic duo Air (Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin), particularly their 1998 album Moon Safari, which was released only shortly before. Both Neil and Chris are professed admirers of Air's music; in fact, when once asked by an interviewer, "If you could be in any other band other than the Pet Shop Boys, who would it be?" Neil replied "Air." Interestingly, Air composed and performed the music for the 2006 album 5:55 by actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg. Air has reportedly cited Gainsbourg as an influence, which raises questions as to whether the Boys may have known this when they recorded "Je T'Aime…" and whether that knowledge may have played a role in their arrangement of the song. Perhaps, though it's also quite possibly just a fascinating coincidence. Adding to this seeming musical cross-pollination is "How Does It Make You Feel?" from Air's 2001 album 10,000 Hz Legend, which employs the same robotic, Stephen Hawking-ish computer voice heard on PSB's "Je T'Aime…." A tip o' the hat back to the Boys? It's difficult to come to any other conclusion.

List cross-references