Charlotte Gainsbourg is back in music, if she ever really went away. In between quite an impressive film schedule (according to the Internet she has released two movies this year alone, with another in post-production), she has written and recorded an album, and created a series of videos for its tracks (‘Rest’ and ‘Deadly Valentine’ are currently available on iTunes) with the controversial director Lars Von Trier as her mentor.
The video for ‘Rest’ – the wispy, whispery, wistful title track – montages new and archival footage, creating a whimsical nostalgic aesthetic that Gainsbourg describes as deeply personal. “Taking possession of the imagery, I was able to reflect my personality in the archive footage I selected or the new images I filmed,” she says. “With this first directorial step, I created a repetitive language via a musical loop. I applied a similar approach to videos for other songs on the album.”
Perhaps weirdly, for a woman who has built her career on eschewing the proper commercial mainstream, despite critical and commercial success, ‘Rest’ is almost deliciously pop-heavy. The synthy, string-laden tracks are reminiscent of Britney Spears’ ‘Blackout’ – a perhaps anomalous comparison that occurred to me more than once on repeat listens – only with a literary, stripped-back experimental tone that elevates them to something more like art than popular culture. I mean all this in a good way.
The haunting, repetitive ‘Ring-A-Ring O’Roses’ opens the record with a gentle, childish quality that’s mirrored in its electro-influenced closing track (about which I am less enamoured).
“Those two songs were always the bookends of the album,” Charlotte explains. “I remember SebAstian [the ablum’s producer] asking, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to say against that rhythm?’ But that’s how this album made sense to me, in the contradiction between things, with the music taking you somewhere and the words going the opposite way.”
Then there’s the moving ‘Kate’, in which she addresses the death of her sister, Kate Barry, and my favourite track, ‘Sylvia Says’, whose darkly melodic tones could score an art-house horror movie.
Just a couple of bugbears:
Can you think of a record featuring a cameo from a child that isn’t just nails-down-the-blackboard, someone-giving-you-a-blow-by-blow-account-of-their-recurring-dream irritating? I can think of one, and it is not the seven-minute closing track of this album (‘Les Oxalis’) – it is, if you must know, Eminem’s ‘’97 Bonnie and Clyde’. I am assuming the child in question is related to Gainsbourg and that therefore none of her production team had the heart to point out this kind of saccharine interlude is going to alienate the demographic of your audience who aren’t still enamoured by Anne Geddes’ oeuvre.
Also, the press release refers to the album tracks as ‘essays’, as if to suggest they offer profound and insightful analysis that you simply do not find in run of the mill songs. They are wrong. These are just songs, albeit very good ones for the most part, albeit occasionally (as in, once, ‘Songbird in a Cage’) written by Paul McCartney.
It’s a confident and compositionally strong work, then, that is only slightly undermined by its inevitable pretensions.