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Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 3 / 3 / 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM
Label: BEC5772608
Format: CD


Compelling latest album from Charlotte Gainsbourg, which inspired by a recovery from a brain haemorrhage after a waterskiing accident, also fetaures Beck as its producer

A lot has happened in Charlotte Gainsbourg’s world since her last album,‘5:55, in 2006. There was her much-publicised waterskiing accident and the subsequent brain haemorrhage which resulted in numerous MRI scans which in turn inspired the sound, lyrics and general feel of the thirteen songs that make up ‘IRM’ (the French abbreviation for magnetic resonance imaging). Then, of course, there were her film appearances, the most famous being her lead role in Lars von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’, for which Charlotte won the Best Actress Award at Cannes and rightly so. A more disturbing, convincing portrayal by any actress in any recent film doesn’t come to mind. On ‘5:55’ Charlotte enlisted the help of Jarvis Cocker, Neil Hannon and Air and the album was produced by Nigel Godrich. The resulting album could hardly fail and it was one of the best and most enduring albums released in 2006. On ‘IRM’ Charlotte chose to work with Beck and despite nearly every review I have read so far claiming that the work of her father Serge Gainsbourg looms large over ‘IRM’ let’s make no mistake that this is, without any doubt, the best album Beck has ever made either under his own name or as producer of others. It appears that Beck, unknowingly, even wrote such lyrics as “drill in my head” without knowing about Charlotte’s operation at that point which while there are those that might be a little unconvinced about such claims, certainly would be one pointer as to why the collaboration between these two artists works so well. When it comes to music they are obviously on the same wavelength. While most of the vocals are handled by Charlotte (and those who must persist in trying to convince us that Charlotte is no great shakes as a singer please keep quiet. It’s the same as saying that Dylan or Neil Young can’t sing) in her breathy, whispering voice the arrangements and experiments with many different sounds and instruments is pure Beck. While not all of the album is an easy ride this is still the most cohesive and appealing album Beck has been involved in. What was a slight worry, especially after reading a number of other reviews as we are a little late reviewing this album, was if Beck was going to go a little over the top in the arrangements and sounds on this album and therefore produce an album that would take a lot of work for the listener to appreciate; some reviews have made this album sound just a little too inaccessible, like it was such a good piece of art that the normal guy on the street would fail to understand it. Given the main source of Charlotte’s inspiration and the fact that she played Beck the sound of an MRI, which she had found on the internet, with instructions to incorporate the sound into the album also made one wonder what the results were going to sound like. Well, at the risk of repeating myself, ‘IRM’ sounds like a Beck album with Charlotte Gainsbourg singing the songs and that is no bad thing. In fact, it’s one of the most inspired and productive musical collaborations ever. The sound is also not a million miles removed from what Charlotte achieved on ‘5:55’ actually, it comes across as a natural progression of the work she started on that album. What does make this album even more appealing is the fact that there is a certain childlike nursery-rhyme quality to some of the songs, which even makes an early appearance on the opening song, ‘Masters Hands’. Even on that title song, where Beck utilises the sound of the scanner, the childlike quality of Charlotte’s vocals and parts of the melody are at eerie odds with the subject matter of the song and the final percussion-heavy and wordless vocal fade out. It’s a chilling piece of work for sure. Imagine those French sixties ye-ye girls suddenly transported onto the set of ‘Antichrist’ and being told to supply the soundtrack and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. But for all Beck’s input and despite Charlotte sounding uncannily like her mother, Jane Birkin, (another good thing) on certain songs it’s obvious that the inspiration for these songs came from Charlotte herself and in drafting in Beck to shape the songs she picked the right guy. ‘IRM’ is that rare thing; an album that stands alone, that is unique and one that you will never tire of. Even after the excellent ‘5:55’ this album is so much more than we could have expected from Charlotte Gainsbourg. Let’s just hope that her film career doesn’t inhibit Charlotte from making more music because on the evidence that is ‘IRM’ she proves that she isn’t the only Gainsbourg who pushed the boundaries of music and won.

Track Listing:-
1 Master's Hands
3 Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes
4 In The End
5 Heaven Can Wait
6 Me And Jane Doe
7 Vanities
8 Time Of The Assassins
9 Trick Pony
10 Greenwich Mean Time
11 Dandelion
12 Voyage
13 La Collectionneuse

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