Charlotte Gainsbourg

Starting out in a way familiar to fans of that other Serge Gainsbourg protégé, Jane Birkin, with prominent piano and a dragging, louche beat. Charlotte adopts a breathy, little girl voice and suddenly we are back in the seventies where the air is thick with Gitanes smoke and the smell of Pastis. However, the songs are mostly in English and, where I can ignore infelicities in French songs, I understand the words here. Where I am used to the puns and wordplay of Serge, these songs, though tightly trimmed and spare, travel a different path, opting to journey through extended metaphors or mutter pillow-talk.

I first saw Charlotte when she was thirteen, in a film that, being in French, I made little sense of, except it seemed like the tale of an overly attached father-daughter relationship where the father is a singer and drinks too much, a lot of which takes place on Dad’s bed. Her first album, at thirteen, featured the Chopin-derived Lemon Incest and managed to provoke the French public in the traditional manner. Now, a decade after Dad drank himself to death, one ex (Charlotte’s Mum) has made a career out of covering his songs but Charlotte strikes out on her own with none of her Dad’s compositions on the album. Charlotte has spent most of her career as a film actress and I get the sense that this is a musical indulgence brought about by creators eager to touch the hem of the frock of anyone close to Monsieur Gainsbarre. Those creators are the gallic prog-merchants, Air, who brought in Nigel Godrich, who has produced them. That explains how a lot of the album has that floating effect of the duo’s drifting first album. Jarvis Cocker got involved and, since his move to Paris, I bet this was a big thing for him. He has gone to lengths to write lines that fit a slightly sparse French pop tradition of terse phrasing, rather than simply being cast-offs from his solo album. Neil Hannon was drafted in for a couple of songs where the evidence of The Divine Comedy’s overwrought output is conspicuous in its absence. Mlle Gainsbourg’s voice is the product of coaching and offers a nicely otherworldly effect, something slightly fey. Her manicured voice gives the whole project a sense of posh camp that must have had Hannon and Cocker grinning as they skipped down the Seine, hand in hand. The Songs That We Sing (a Neil Hannon piece) has strings that owe everything to Serge’s Bonnie and Clyde. We can pin that on a sincere tribute from the strings arranger – wait for it, Beck’s Dad, David Campbell.

So, an all star cast of workers and an actress who is producing her second album in 20-plus years. Given her Dad’s penchant for using, ahem, ‘non-traditional’ singers (and those that just plain couldn’t) – Jane Birkin, Bridget Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, I find her poached vocals a bit of a turn-on and I just know that everyone involved will have been flattered at being in the company of each of the others, making for a grand flattery that has produced a strangely camp and mannered little gem.

Link to interview & some tracks (High speed connection needed)

Ross McGibbon