BECAUSE MUSIC 17th November 2017
Much has been made of the lyrical content of this bilingual album but I’m interested in how it sounds. A long-time fan of her Dad, Serge Gainsbourg, and her Mum, Jane Birkin, I’ve followed Charlotte Gainsbourg as she deals with working in others’ shadows. She seems to have dealt with it through multiple collaborations, sometimes with those whose interest might have been piqued more by her ancestry than anything else. So we’ve seen an album written by Jarvis Cocker, one with Beck, work with Air, work with Daft Punk, all good work but in search of a sound to call her own.
Somehow here, by embracing her heritage and the French pop mainstream, she seems at ease. This is pretty much a mainstream French rock/pop album you’d hear in the eighties, nineties, noughties or today (the French don’t really do rock). Only the synth sounds are updated and some dance beats added by half of Daft Punk. I hear the breathy voice her Mum favoured (largely because she can’t really sing) and one adopted by many others in the French charts. I hear catchy piano lines that echo Chopin, like her Dad favoured. I hear a middle of the road easy-going plod of the sort that kept Francois Hardy in the spotlight for decade after decade. Languorous bass-lines and strings keep this firmly in the mainstream that marks out French pop royalty. I hope this doesn’t sound like damning with faint praise; the album really works if you like this sort of thing – and I do. There is a Gallic cool supplied on the tracks with Daft Punk involvement and an atmosphere of the grown-up and relaxed sound of a big French rock album.
Lyrically, we get bits of English mixed in with the French and a song from Paul McCartney. We hear about the death of Charlotte’s sister and the emotional fall out from that. In the second track we hear about her Dad’s corpse – ‘Lying With You’ – “visage de cire”, she sings – face of wax. She calls back, in that phrase, the Eurovision ‘Poupee De Cire’ that bought Dad much infamy. ‘I’m A Lie’, like others, has a very Serge instrumentation and vocals spoken in whispers – a style she deploys to powerful effect a number of times. ‘Deadly Valentine’ gets all Georgio Moroder. Importantly the polished glimmering melodies catch the light – just snippets but adding a sugar coating to everything. The album progresses steadily, never surprising but pleasing, with its adherence to the signals and tropes of the genre.
The results will please anyone who is still in thrall to the moody, theatrical, breathy aspects of the French mainstream and will bring Charlotte her most commercially successful album.