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Album Review

Charlotte Gainsbourg, 'IRM'

February 1, 2010

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Not even a brush with death, it seems, can ruffle the detached and gauzy loveliness of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s artistic output. The shadow of her cerebral hemorrhage, the result of a water skiing accident, hangs heavily over “IRM.’’ But with help from producer Beck (who also wrote most of the material), the experience becomes abstract fodder for the electro chanteuse to breathily tell her story. Given her grim subject matter, “IRM’’ is significantly warmer than 2006’s ambient-industrial “5:55,’’ for which Beck deserves full credit. His production of “IRM’’ recalls two of his finest, most introspective moments: “Sea Change’’ and “Mutations.’’ The jangly first single, “Heaven Can Wait,’’ soars as Gainsbourg sings about slipping down to the dregs. The rhythmic “Me and Jane Doe’’ is Beck’s irreverent songwriting output at its finest as Gainsbourg coos “I’d like to unplug the phone / Sending messages with a mirror’’ over a series of harmonious moans. It’s too easy to say that Gainsbourg is playing muse to Beck just as her mother, British singer Jane Birkin, did with Gainsbourg’s father, Serge Gainsbourg, 40 years ago. But Beck seems well aware of his role. He has not written material this powerful in years, and Gainsbourg’s wispy voice is skillfully placed as a delicate and fanciful pedestal to glimmer in surprisingly invigorating new ways. (Out now)

CHRISTOPHER MUTHER

Pop
Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM
Elektra/Because
ESSENTIAL “Heaven Can Wait’’