Filed under: album, review | Tags: charlotte gainsbourg, dalia wolfson, IRM
Don’t be fooled by the title. IRM isn’t the onomatopoeic version of a cringing sound, although it’s quite likely that Charlotte Gainsbourg was doing just that while undergoing a hospital scan (IRM is the French equivalent of an MRI) that provided the inspiration for this new album, originating from the strange feeling she had while reclining in the machine. Yet the capacity to verbalise and elaborate upon this fascination with the rhythm of the scanner has been almost entirely transferred, in this album, to the notorious Beck Hansen, who produced and wrote the songs for IRM while touting along some skilled musicians for instrumental accompaniment.
IRM is, in some ways, like an MRI of Charlotte Gainsbourg, passing over different portions of her musical body – the “crooked eyes / crooked tooth / crooked mind” make a directly-worded appearance in ‘Greenwich Mean Time’ but are apparent throughout the album. Gainsbourg announces observations of strange scenes, pushes French words out of her mouth and reminisces on the sudden cerebral haemorrhage that brought her to the hospital in the first place. Several pieces show her versatility, with ‘Heaven Can Wait’ introducing a catchy, hopping tune while ‘Me & Jane Doe’ sounds almost like something pulled out of Kimya Dawson’s afro, but the general technique of the album is heard in the refrain of ‘Master’s Hands’: “Breathe out, come alive / give me a reason to feel,” she sings in an invigorating, seductive way, not unlike her mother Jane Birkin, exhaling then requesting an excuse to inhale once more at master Hansen’s command.
While the songs on IRM initially appear lightweight, they all contain the stuff of an ominous story, such as the foreboding of an ancient, paranoid, mentally uncertain lady hoarding memories in ‘The Collector’ or the haunting muse singing ‘In The End’. This creative collaboration proudly declares its French pop angle, with wispy choruses, bold beats and waves of techno, but Gainsbourg still can’t seem to break away from the musical footprints of her parents, nor to establish a distinct style of her own. While the songs here are heavily deliberate and largely masterful pieces, they lack a personal style – perhaps because Beck has been given a significant workload while Gainsbourg sat beside him, offering opinions and blowing smoke rings luxuriously through the studio.
Beck has said that he was aiming for “some kind of transparency where I became virtually invisible and all you’re focusing on is her,” but this is not enough if Gainsbourg’s voice skips from the legs to the arms to the chest to the head of French pop, without any wholesome unity. And even though a melancholy undertone exists throughout the album, the expression of that sadness is so disorderly that the songs evade categorisation. Ultimately, while the tracks have been hand-tailored for Gainsbourg, they are stitched together awkwardly. It might function better as singles of good quality rather than a lumped together collection, but IRM nonetheless manages to satisfy through its examination of French pop possibilities and the steady beep beep of a scanner.
UK release date: 25/01/10; www.myspace.com/charlottegainsbourg
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