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Charlotte Gainsbourg
FILTER Grade: 91%%

By Ken Scrudato on January 4, 2010


Charlotte Gainsbourg

If Charlotte Gainsbourg’s previous choice of Air as producer and music partner was fairly obvious (ethereal, mercurial French actress; mercurial, ethereal French band), her most recent choice of Beck is certainly not. And where the former record, 5:55, was like springtime on the Seine, the mysteriously titled IRM is more like autumn in Alsace. Think about it: Charlotte is an actor singing, and Beck is a singer-songwriter oftentimes playing the chameleon. However, the one album in which Beck did breach the cold steel irony that has built his career, Sea Change, was heavily inspired and influenced by another Gainsbourg—Charlotte’s father, Serge, and his iconic Historie de Melody Nelson. Oh…the possibilities.

    And wouldn’t you know it—Beck’s willingness to raid just about any genre works wonders when coupled with Mlle. Gainsbourg’s ability to inject matter-of-fact sexual energy into just about anything. (For the record, she once simply slid from the couch to the floor in my close proximity and I practically had to call room service for a bucket of ice.) Curiously, IRM doesn’t give the listener a chance to be eased into the unexpected. The opening title track mates a galloping, epileptic beat with detached noise experiments straight out of the Cabaret Voltaire handbook, whilst Charlotte chants Freudian terrors like, “Leave my head demagnetized/Tell me where the trouble lies” in an uncharacteristically robotic fashion. It’s pretty jarring, but you know, in the best possible way.

    Don’t worry—the sexual frenzy (an unconcerned sexual frenzy, that is) isn’t far behind. “Trick Pony” is what Led Zep might have sounded like if Robert Plant had grown up a girl in Montparnasse rather than a bloke in West Bromwich. It comes complete with macho, thundering drumming; fat, compressed power chords and the feral, echo-drenched slide guitar, one which James Page practically trademarked. Those prepped for the record to devolve into some industrial-metal freak fest, though, may be disappointed to discover “Heaven Can Wait”—with its cabaret piano and ’60s horns—is but a thinly veiled homage to The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.” And it’s undoubtedly comforting to steadfast Francophiles that the breathy, wistful-ennui-disposed Charlotte we all fell in love with hasn’t gone missing. She conjectures with that singularly world-weary sensuality: “Heaven can wait/And Hell’s too far to go/Somewhere between what you need and what you know/And they’re trying to drive that escalator into the ground.” One can safely guess that this is a revelatory observation after a couple of Gauloises and a few rounds of Pastis.

    Beck, one could hardly disagree, has a magician’s mastery of sound, creating cultivated atmospheres out of a bunch of knobs and wires. And as the weirder moments on IRM reveal the true scope of Gainsbourg’s talent, it’s a relief Beck allowed for some genuinely pretty moments—because Gainsbourg can convey longing as bewitchingly as anyone who has ever walked this Earth. Indeed, both the beautifully intimate “In the End” and the disquieting, disconsolately resplendent “Time of the Assassin” are awash in fervid, enigmatic yearnings. Bravo to Beck for gently lulling her back into that space.

    Yearnings, indeed. On “Me and Jane Doe”, Gainsbourg promises us that, “If I had my way I’d cross the desert to the sea/Learn to speak in tongues/Something that makes sense to you and to me.” It’s funny and sweet that she thinks such a trifling thing as “sense” matters to our relationship with her. Moi, if I could be stripped bare of all rhyme, reason, logic and especially sense, would still be consummately comforted to know that Mlle. Gainsbourg might yet appear before me to sing me into consolation. Bless.

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