Music News

Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Title: IRM
Release date: January 26, 2010
Label: Because Music/Atlantic

I picked this album to listen to today because I was curious to hear what the French actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg had to offer, given that a) she's probably better known as an actress, b) she's the daughter of the legendary singer Serge Gainsbourg. I remember seeing her in the mid-1990s in a film adaptation of Jane Eyre. I can't recall much else she was in until she appeared in 21 Grams, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and then in the offbeat Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There in 2007. Anyway, she's a solid actress.

If you're not familiar with her old man's work, I recommend it. Serge Gainsbourg was generally regarded as France's greatest pop songwriter during the late 1960s and 1970s. He famously recorded a song with Jane Birkin (Charlotte's mom) called "Je t'aime . . . moi non plus," which featured some suggestive lyrics and even more suggestive noises, courtesy of Birkin. Serge also recorded music with Brigitte Bardot, including the classic single "Bonnie and Clyde." In short, his music possessed a sensual quality and he was a noted ladies man. He died in 1991 of a heart attack.

His daughter's new record (produced by Beck, by the way) is all over the map stylistically (so was her dad's music) but is not without its strengths and, all in all, is quite listenable. Gainsbourg isn't the strongest of singers, but throughout IRM, she evokes an urbane, late-night mood with her delicate, breathy vocals, singing lyrics in both English and French. The best part about this record may be the use of a few expertly placed, hauntingly perfect string arrangements. Very cool touch. 

She's clearly influenced by her father on songs like "In the End" and "Time of the Assasins" (probably the most outright mainstream song here). I also hear T.Rex ("Dandelion"), The Kinks ("Heaven Can Wait"), and even early Le Tigre ("Greenwich Mean Time"). And, of course, Beck's fingerprints all over this record. If you like Beck, there's a decent chance you'll find some stuff here that you like.

Best song: "Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes" (love those James Bond-esque strings) and "Vanities" (more great strings)
Worst song: "Voyage," though Vampire Weekend fans will love it.
Rotation: Medium
Deja Vu: Paris 
I'd rather listen to: Luna's Penthouse
Grade: B

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett