Friday, September 08, 2006

5:55 - Charlotte Gainsbourg

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Erstwhile media and movie star decides to make an album and pulls together some of the top names to help her do it. No, we're not talking about Paris Hilton, but alluring French chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg.

So ok, she didn't really want to make the album but with a little persuasion from the blokes from Air, some lyrics from Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon and production from Radiohead cohort Nigel Godrich, the final product was 5:55.

All of which immediately points to something less, shall we say, strange than her previous music efforts. Which were largely prominent due to the duet with her father Serge concerning incest. Charlotte was 13 at the time. (And let's not forget the film where Serge, as her co-star, had to undress her and then bed her. Which would be a strange enough piece of casting without the fact that Serge had written the script).

The spectre of Serge could never be far from such a musical project, and given Charlotte's reluctance to sing (she hid herself with a blanket to record her vocals on this album) it's a surprise that we're even presented with this album at all. Serge is there in the swirling and busy orchestral moments in the sublime The Songs That We Sing and he's there in the breathy and sensual Jamais (come on, it's the sort of thing he would have had Jane Birkin singing).

Indeed it seems almost as if Serge could be credited as a beyond-the-grave producer of this collection, but to look at it purely from this vanatge point would be to do it a dis-service.

The musical arrangements by Air are reminscent of their wonderful Virgin Suicides soundtrack album, a moment which, to my mind, still ranks as their best so far. However what sets this album apart from the competitors is the sheer quality of the songwriting. If anyone ever needed confirmation that Jarvis Cocker is a true British icon, they should listen to this.

Gainsbourg apparently tried to write her own lyrics, but eventually settled for discussions with Cocker who applied his own unique style and came up with something quite brilliant indeed.

Granted, it doesn't always quite work. Beauty Mark is a little too sparse and, well, boring, to work and Morning Song is perhaps a little morose to be an effective closing statement. But when it does work there is little to do but love it. The Songs That We Sing may well be one of the singles of the year, Everything I Cannot See is playful and an absolute delight and The Operation is seduction set to music.

Of course given the sheer wealth of big names lending a hand it's tempting to dismiss any part that Gainsbourg herself may have played. Whilst Gainsbourg couldn't be labelled the greatest singer ever she can carry a tune and her breathy and sensual singing style shows quite a few femme fatales exactly how to carry off icy and sexy. You may be tempted to feel she's just a part of the package, but she effortlessly manages to ensure that she stays centre stage throughout.

Of course, we'll probablly wait in vain for a follow up, but judged purely on its own merits in this particulaly place in time you cannot help but become immersed in it's beauty.

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