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Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM

Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CHARLOTTE Gainsbourg’s third album is notable for having been put together with musical mastermind Beck. And it’s a match that mostly seems to have been made in musical heaven.

Beck has long been one of pop’s most consistently innovative acts (whether live or in studio form) and with Gainsbourg has created an album that quite possibly represents the most accessible of the French singer’s career. And yet it’s still a highly maverick piece of work.

Its inspiration comes, ironically, from a very dark period in Gainsbourg’s life – after she suffered a brain haemorrhage during a waterskiing accident, was subsequently operated on and had repeated scans. The noise of the MRI scanners, in particular, left a huge impression on her, as did her own survival and brush with mortality.

Hence, there’s optimism, reflection and even surrealness in the lyrics and compositions, as well as a romanticism that’s pure Beck.

Highlights take the form of former single Heaven Can Wait, which is lush, deeply melodic, slightly dreamy and makes good use of the vocal trade-off between the two talented artists. A punchy, almost folksy acoustic guitar also works well alongside some spritely piano chords and a really trippy beat.

Prior to that, however, is the vibrant, percussion heavy, near-funk of IRM, which somehow takes the distinct sound of an MRI scan and manages not to make it sound too jarring. The percussion, though, is pure Beck-inspired – hitting the folk-funk of some of his earlier work and infusing it with a sharp contemporary, and yes Gallic, edge.

Album opener Master Hands drops an insistent main beat and some kooky percussion along with a whispered central vocal from Gainsbourg that provides a welcome entry point. The chorus, in particular, is dripping with melody and hints at the delights that lay in store. The personalities of both collaborators is able to shine through.

Gainsbourg’s own distinct style is very much to the fore, however, on the French sung Le Chat Du Cafe Des Artistes, which manages to combine French romanticism with something more orchestral and foreboding (and more akin to Serge Gainsbourg), while there’s a fragile tenderness to the early days of In The End before Beck layers in some romanticism via a rousing string backdrop late on.

There’s a cute folksy charm to Me And Jane Doe which makes it another highlight, complete with some great backing vocals and clever layering, while Time of The Assassins and Dandelion add some slow-burning attitude that’s welcome – the latter, in particular, an affectionately blues-psychedelia mix that sounds like its channelling the energy of T-Rex.

Look out too for the strung out rock of Trick Pony, the effervescent energy of Greenwich Mean Time and the orchestral folk of the distinctly cinematic Voyage.

All in all, Gainsbourg and Beck have delivered an album to savour.

Download picks: IRM, Master Hands, Heaven Can Wait, Me And Jane Doe, Dandelion, Voyage, Trick Pony

Track listing:

  1. Master’s Hand
  2. IRM
  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
  14. Looking Glass Blues