Release Date: Nov 17, 2017
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
I'm not, of course, saying that you have to have experienced this in order to be a 'great artist', but it would appear to help. Indeed, it helps significantly to be French; there's something about the way that the society operates there with compulsory philosophy, a constant republic-revolution circle, and a café-conversation culture that's drip-fed into public life like nowhere else. Think of French music though and it's surprising that a culture so rich has such a paucity of internationally renowned musical artistes.
In Melancholia, Lars von Trier's apocalyptic 2011 film, Charlotte Gainsbourg portrays a woman struggling to pull her sister from the throes of mental illness. Her performance is raw, devastating, and revealing of the singer/actress' artistic fascination with darkness. There's also a grim sort of prescience to the role--Gainsbourg's own half-sister, the photographer Kate Barry, died in late 2013, after falling from a window.
C harlotte Gainsbourg's new album is the first she's written the lyrics for, and, perhaps as a result, gives her voice its broadest palette yet as she tries on different roles: child, ingenue, diarist, diva. There's creepy nursery rhyme on Ring-a-Ring O'Roses, classic French chanson on Lying With You, trippy sprechgesang on Songbird in a Cage (guest-written by Paul McCartney in full acid mode: "flying through the sky, all our senses reeling"), and disco on Deadly Valentine and Sylvia Says. A few of the melodies that she and producer SebastiAn alight on resolve too neatly, running their course as predictably as a romcom.
Charlotte Gainsbourg sings in both French and English on Rest, her first album in seven years. While the actress and singer previously wrote only in English, intimidated by the superstardom of her late father, French musician Serge Gainsbourg, this linguistic duality brings out haunting layers of mystery on her fifth album. The record charmingly marries modern electronic pop and Kate Bush-like feminine art-pop vocals.
On her first LP in seven years, singer-actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Sixties French pop star Serge Gainsbourg) exudes the same droll, distracted sense of uneasy whimsy she's brought to her screen performances and previous music projects. Fans of spacey Nineties lounge-pop like Air or Broadcast will drift along happily to pillowy confections such as "Ring-a-Ring O'Roses" and "Rest," a collaboration with Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel. She also teams up with Sir Paul McCartney for the inspired No Wave pop of "Songbird in a Cage," which suggests the Waitresses produced by Brian Eno.
In a recent interview with The Economist, Charlotte Gainsbourg spoke of the lyrics in Rest, her latest release and first proper studio album for eight years, as 'intimate - not embarrassing but on the verge of being embarrassing'. Just the sort of self-effacing comment you'd expect from someone who, having recorded her first song at 12 years old, has only now, at 46, released an album of her own lyrics. Intimate? Yes.
Charlotte Gainsbourg has been famous in France since before she could walk, and yet she carries the weight of all those expectations as gracefully as a Birkin bag, which are named, incidentally, after her mother, Jane Birkin. Birkin is an English actress and French singer who appeared in dozens of movies, including the arthouse classic Blowup. Birkin was herself the daughter of another famous actress, Judy Campbell, the platonic partner and muse for celebrated playwright Noel Coward.
P revious albums have enlisted lyric-writing help from Jarvis Cocker, Air and Beck, but Gainsbourg's fourth is notable for being largely self-penned (with a little help from Paul McCartney on Songbird in a Cage). French DJ SebastiAn's slick production makes for a very polished sound that's easy on the ear, helped by Gainsbourg's whispered, breathy vocals which alternate between French and English. The opener, Ring-a-Ring o' Roses, sounds far more sophisticated than a song using a a nursery rhyme as its refrain has any right to, and Deadly Valentine also engages.
When it was announced that Rest would feature contributions from Connan Mockasin, Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Paul McCartney (not to mention production from the magic fingers of Ed Banger's SebastiAn) my first reaction was, somehow, disappointment. Since her father Serge wrote her 1986 debut (Lemon Incest) most of her music has been created and defined by men around her. 2009's IRM sounded a lot like Beck making an album using someone else's voice, while Gainsbourg's affected English accent drew a little too much attention to Jarvis Cocker's lyrics on 5:55.