Category Archives: charlotte gainsbourg

IRM by charlotte gainsbourg

by Gordon

Pitchfork: 8.4         Rolling Stone: 3.5/5         Metacritic: 80         Spin: 3.5/5


Released: December 2009
  1. Master’s Hands
  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 [LISTEN]

  9. Trick Pony
  10. Greenwich Mean Time
  11. Dandelion
  12. Voyage
  13. La Collectionneuse
  14. Looking Glass Blues

   I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m struggling to make up my mind about Charlotte Gainsbourg. Is she beautiful, or not at all? Is she a great actress, or hardly average? Is she a brilliant singer-songwriter, or just a good faker? I tend to give her the benefit of the doubt, but just when I find myself taken by one of her songs, I can’t help but question the amount of artistic input Gainsbourg can take credit for. I like her voice…earthy, confident, a bit deep. But I fear most congratulations for the upsides to her third and latest, IRM, belong to Beck, who wrote and produced all but one of the album’s tracks (the other not even belonging to Gainsbourg).

   “Master’s Hands” is a smart opener, setting a hushed but itching-to-explode vibe that rings true for much of the album. An airy, acoustic strumming pairs with tribal-esque drumming patterns, a backdrop to Gainsbourg’s bold yet near-whispering vocals until, just after halfway through, she breaks into a haunting escalade of “ooohhs”. Title track “IRM” picks up to a more electronic, chaotic yet vocally subdued tune that doesn’t do much for me melodically but is different enough that it at least shows that originality still resides in Beck’s court.

   Gainsbourg returns to her native French roots with “Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes”, a Jean-Pierre Ferland-written track which is notable, perhaps only, for its dark symphonic landscape, with strings reaching high into minor chords and bringing to mind early villain-themed songs to James Bond soundtracks.

   “Heaven Can Wait” is the true gem of the album, and features the most vocal help from Beck himself. The pair make a fine duet atop slow-paced but near-ragtime piano, corresponding guitar strums and simple, tambourine-led percussion (and eventually a little help from the brass). The unnervingly offbeat video, featuring a dinosaur in a wig in a bathtub, a giant rat being held up at knife point, and an astronaut with pancakes for a head, to name a few scenes, can be seen below.

   “Time of the Assassins” beams for reason only of its chorus, which breaks through from amidst Gainsbourg’s typical lull-you-to-sleep demeanor, the audio spectrum opening wide in all directions, most memorably to include a haunting chorale of “aaahhs” right behind her slightly more optimistic pitch.

   But Beck’s studio magic tricks can’t save every song from the sometimes lackluster performances by Gainsbourg. “Greenwich Mean Time”, for example, sees a cacophony of clinks and clacks combine to form an unsuccessful canvas to Gainsbourg’s megaphone-altered exclamations (her lack of tonal energy, which at this point can be expected, doesn’t help either). In perhaps aiming for some combination of wiser, older and more serious, IRM skips on the more optimistic lifts from songs like “Songs That We Sing” (video here) from her previous 5:55, lifts I found myself longing for.

   I’m sure Charlotte does at least a semi-solid instrumental effort on the album, this more likely than not including much of the guitar work. But it’s IRM‘s idiosyncratic bells and whistles that help create its almost time-and-place altering effect that allow it to stand out in an otherwise bland market, even for Indie music, and Beck may well take the bulk of that credit. But ultimately IRM falls a little flat, serving better as an accent to a day’s moment, than worthy of being the center of the moment itself.

Leave a comment

Filed under charlotte gainsbourg