When I first read the headline “lost Serge Gainsbourg album to be released later this year” I must confess that, just like any other fan, I wet my panties a bit. After all, we’re talking about one of the most important French composers of the 20th century, with the added value of his music being so incredibly eclectic its influences can be perceived across numerous musical genres.

In spite of being primarily (originally, at least) a chanson/pop composer, Gainsbourg also wrote many soundtracks, either for movies he starred in or for others in which he didn’t — L’Eau à La Bouche (1959), Anna (1967), Cannabis (1970), and Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus (1975) are but a couple of entries of this extensive list — frequently collaborating with other arrangers/composers in order to properly deliver the idea he had in mind.

Les Chemins de Katmandou is one of those scores. Although a mini-album containing excerpts of the film (“épaves,” meaning literally “remains”) as well as its title track were released a couple of years ago by Alceste Musique, its somewhat unofficial status only seemed to confirm what had been vox populi since the film premiered back in 1970: that the original soundtrack tapes had been lost in a studio fire over forty years ago. Their recent discovery in a vault and subsequent restoration led to a permission for London-based label Finders Keepers to finally release the original score, a 12-track collection of (mostly) instrumental soundscapes marvellously crafted by Gainsbourg and his longtime collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier, with whom he had already worked in the Paris N’Existe Pas (1969) OST and would join forces again the following year for what is considered Gainsbourg’s first concept album and one of his greatest masterpieces: L’Histoire de Melody Nelson.

Running just a bit under half an hour, the original soundtrack for André Cayatte’s film Les Chemins de Katmandou (English title: The Pleasure Pit) is filled with multicoloured musical corners that duly encapsulate the diversity of Oliver and Jane’s journey from Europe to the far East: it mixes psych-rock influences and paisley-coloured jangling guitars that Gainsbourg had already began using in Initials B.B. (1968), with Vannier’s masterful use of airy strings and brass, a match made in heaven that is properly and immediately showcased by the title-track. Other tracks see them freely mixing acid jazz, proto-prog, Indian music (‘Le Roi Des Phlébotomes’ and ‘Cache Cache’ are excellent examples of a crafty, not over-the-top use of tablas), and traditional orchestral arrangements — a pot-pourri of sorts that emerges from the need of musically describing Jane’s childish, carefree drug naïveté against a world that is both exotic and dangerous. On the other hand, Oliver’s impetuous and slightly heroic-based character is obviously depicted by the quick-paced, frantic track named after the character, an atmosphere that contrasts heavily with the tragic-toned ‘Overdose’ or ‘Fallen Rainbow’. The album comes full circle with a reprise of the title-track at the end, reminding us that every journey is meant to return to its starting point, even if its circumstances and people involved have been forever changed in the process.

Les Chemins de Katmandou is a valuable tool for understanding the passage Gainsbourg made from his slightly psych-driven ‘Qui Est "In" Qui Est "Out"?’ phase to the embracing of a more comprehensive use of orchestral arrangements in pop, an aspect that should be properly differentiated from its use in standalone, more immediate songs like the hits he wrote for France Gall — ‘Laisse Tomber Les Filles’, ‘Les Sucettes’, or the Eurovision winner ‘Poupée de Cire Poupée de Son’ — which feature in their vast majority Alain Goraguer’s savoir-faire. This missing piece of the puzzle that is Gainsbourg’s musical genius may appear irrelevant at first, but if read in context of the vast and multicoloured jungle that is his extensive body of work one easily understands it is indeed a perfect fit, unveiling a restless composer who was simultaneously ahead and fully aware of his time.