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Charlotte Gainsbourg - The lowdown on French charmer

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Feature by Jack Foley

IT’S a measure of the extraordinary esteem in which she is held that Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of the brightest stars of modern French cinema, should make an album in partnership with such luminaries as Jarvis Cocker, the French duo Air, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and celebrated English producer Nigel Godrich.

The album, called 5:55, represents a return to the studio for an artist who made her recording debut at the age of 13.

Indeed, that first album came around the same time Charlotte made her film debut. Perhaps such burgeoning talents were always deeply embedded in her DNA – she is the daughter of legendary French poet and singer Serge Gainsbourg and the English actress Jane Birkin, herself one of France’s most cherished celebrities.

In 2001, Madonna sampled Charlotte’s voice – an extract from one of her films – as the intro to What It Feels Like For a Girl.

But Madonna wasn’t the only person to value the sound of that voice. Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, asked Charlotte to sing backing vocals on his 2002 album, Have You Fed the Fish?, and she recorded If with the acclaimed French artist, Ètienne Daho, in 2003.

All this, of course, looked very much like the prelude to something bigger, perhaps even a full-blown resumption of her singing career.

But the real catalyst came when Charlotte was introduced to Air’s Nicolas Godin at a Radiohead concert in Paris. From that initial meeting came the idea of a new Charlotte Gainsbourg album.

Further introductions were made, this time to Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon who, along with Charlotte, contributed the album’s lyrics.

Air’s Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel wrote and played the music while Canadian composer David Campbell was responsible for the string arrangements.

The father of Beck, Campbell’s previous work credits include not only his son but also such artists as Elton John, Leonard Cohen and Michael Jackson.

The album’s line-up was completed with the great Nigerian percussionist Tony Allen, revered for his work with Fela Kuti and recently described by Brian Eno as “the greatest musician on the planet”.

Needless to say, with so many talented people working behind the scenes, 5:55 is a really fascinating, chic listen. It’s certainly worthy of the talents of everyone involved.

Read our review