Charlotte Gainsbourg: ‘IRM’

It was a Tuesday afternoon after the brief, but terrifying “tornado” storm, and I was sitting cozily in my apartment listening to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s third and latest album titled “IRM” – “imagerie par résonance magnétique,” French for MRI. However, 10 minutes into the album, I had to stop and question myself: Am I listening to Charlotte Gainsbourg, or am I listening to Beck, the man who produced the record, orchestrated the music scores and co-wrote the lyrics for all the songs?

Besides being a musician, Gainsbourg is a respected actress who has starred in films such as “La Science des rêves,”  the French sister to the American “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and the provocative “Antichrist.” With this in mind, it would be easy for one to assume that when it came to music, Gainsbourg would take a more individualistic approach; yet, the daughter of avant-pop provocateur Jane Birkin and famous French musician Serge Gainsbourg is in no rush to make her own brand in the music world.

In 2007, Gainsbourg was rushed to a hospital for a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a water skiing accident. The experience not only inspired the name for the album, but also prompted Gainsbourg to write the title track “IRM.” The harsh machinery sounds that charge behind Gainsbourg’s robotic, spoken-word singing mimics the menacing sounds of an MRI machine in the process of getting a scan – if you’ve ever been in an MRI machine, then you will know that it is everything but quiet. The reverberation of mechanical noises clashing with one another skillfully captures Gainsbourg’s mental calamity, echoing the turbulent experience’s effect on her state of mind.

Tucked neatly in the middle of the record is perhaps one of the strongest tracks on the record. “Time of the Assassins” takes full advantage of Gainsbourg’s airy vocals as she barely raises her voice to more than a whisper, but don’t be deceived by the song’s quiet beginning. When the chorus comes around the corner and the drums kick in, Gainsbourg’s dreamy voice pushes the song to an ethereal high unlike any other song on the album when she sings “Hallelujah, it doesn’t take a miracle to raise a heart from the dead.”

However, “Time of the Assassins” isn’t the only track that makes use of Gainsbourg’s soft voice. Songs such as “La Collectionneuse,” “Master’s Hands” and “In the End” display the quiet, yet powerful effect her breathy yet timid voice can induce.

With such an eclectic array of music styles ranging from taut electronic numbers (“Greenwich Mean Time”) to classical French ballads (“Le Chat De Café Des Artistes”) to summery folk tunes (“Me and Jane Doe”), it’s no wonder why this album feels so fresh. The album doesn’t solely stick to one specific genre; rather, it experiments with various styles to come together as a very diverse yet cohesive album.

With such an inclusive record, the fear of having an incoherent album looms like the heavy clouds currently ravaging Irvine, but Gainsbourg’s voice does a brilliant job of serving as the crutch for the album’s integrity by unifying the seemingly disparate songs.

Although the album is chock full of seductive, catchy tunes, the biggest inadequacy of the album is the obvious fingerprints of Beck’s handiwork, which laces the album to the point where it seems like “IRM” could very well be a spin-off of Beck’s most recent release, “Modern Guilt.” Most notably are tracks such as “Looking Glass Blues” and the album’s first single, “Heaven Can Wait,” a duet between the two artists.

This raises a very pressing question. Exactly whose album is it? Sure, the album cover clearly states that this is a Charlotte Gainsbourg album, but as I sat snug between my sheets listening to this album in its entirety, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’m listening to a Beck album, with the exception that he has asked a female vocalist to step in to do all the singing.

Whether or not Gainsbourg plans on making her own mark in the music world has yet to be determined, but one thing is for certain: she sure knows how to pick producers. For now, her lack of musical individualism can slide, because to be honest, she makes it up with her acting career, but if Gainsbourg aspires to make a fourth album, let us all cross our fingers and hope that she chooses to sit in the driver’s seat as opposed to her favored passenger seat.