Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM

Wed Jun 02 2010

On the surface, this album sounds like trash heap scraps from Beck’s last several records, pasted together with some British chick singing over top.  Another reason it turned me off was because of two tunes I’d heard on a Flosstradamus mixtape from a couple years back, featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg cooing seductively to atmospheric dance tracks; just seemed perfect, and here was Beck (of all people), trying to twee her up.  Hell, “Heaven Can Wait” is almost all Beck, and not top-flight Beck by any means; sounds like it was left off Mutations for a reason.  Somehow, I’ve still found some reasons to dig this album, though.

Grudgingly, I have to admit that Beck’s leftovers are better than most people’s hot-off-the-grill; it’s just that I’m not used to him recycling, so I feel like Ms. Gainsbourg got the shaft a little bit.  “Trick Pony” might be the weakest track Beck has ever tossed off, and album opener “Master’s Hand” isn’t much better.  I can’t help hearing a lot of these pieces as underdeveloped Guero­-era fragments, and Gainsbourg’s breathy murmur doesn’t necessarily elevate them.

Charlotte occasionally does her best to be the star of the show, but maybe she just doesn’t have that burning desire.  When it works best, as on the stunning “Vanities”, the snappy, fizzy romp “Voyage”, and the hypnotic title track, she’s a force equal to the music, but she still seems to be squeezing herself into a dress someone else picked out.  When she truly stands out, like with her deeply effective barely-a-whisper on “Time Of The Assassins”, or her meticulous wordplay in “La Collectionneuse”, it’s mainly because not much of interest is going on behind her.  She’s at her sexiest on “Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes”, but the music doesn’t move until the end of the song.

Ultimately, I think Charlotte is more effective operating on a nightclub beat or possibly something weirder than what turns up on IRM.  It rarely gets beyond pleasant, but its sweetest moments are worth the immersion it takes for them to grow on you.

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