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Album review: Charlotte Gainsbourg's 'IRM'

January 25, 2010 |  6:33 pm
Char_240 The third release from the French actress most recently acclaimed for her performance in “Antichrist,” Charlotte Gainsbourg's "IRM" is designed for hip, smart girls in crisis. Sultry rock with an existential edge, the intelligently composed songs flirt with catastrophe but never surrender.

Given the shabby-chic texture of the album, infused with elements of folk and terse electronica, it's apparent that Beck produced, composed the music and co-wrote the lyrics. The elegance that served him well in "Modern Guilt" and "Sea Change" is an even better fit for the always unruffled progeny of perv-artiste Serge Gainsbourg and muse-collaborator Jane Birkin.

But it's the singer's recent brush with death in 2007 from a water-skiing accident that substantiates the album's spectral mood. The title song, named for the French acronym for magnetic resonance imaging, thrums with heartbeat-like rhythms and buzzing monotones borrowed from the ER. She uses the medical lexicon to explore the psychedelic borders between the physical and the spiritual.

Throughout the follow-up to her 2006 album, "5:55," Gainsbourg never sounds out of her element, no matter how the music shifts underneath her feet. "Trick Pony" rumbles like some nasty love child of Jon Spencer and Goldfrapp circa 2003's "Black Cherry," yet Gainsbourg rides it with gracefully lean vocals. On the enigmatic "Me and Jane Doe," she meditates on a desert landscape that could be read as the Wild West of the afterlife.

Gainsbourg seems to intimately understand that the lines of existence, like the lines of genre or tone, can never truly be known, but yet she's at home wherever she goes.

-- Margaret Wappler

Charlotte Gainsbourg
Because Music/Elektra Records
Three and a half stars (Out of four)