(Because Music, December 2009)
Review by Hugh Lilly
The title of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s third album in as many decades was inspired by the sound (and French initialisation) of an MRI machine, and the title track, second in the running order, feels like it was recorded inside of one, which is just as horrendous as it probably sounds—if not moreso. Gainsbourg is primarily an actress—she appeared most recently last year in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and Patrice Chereau’s Persecution—and, of course, she’s the daughter of Jane Birkin and notoriously smarmy Frenchman Serge Gainsbourg, with whom she performed the rightly controversial song “Lemon Incest” in 1985, aged only 12. Where her 2006 album was an enjoyable collaboration with the French electro duo Air, IRM was produced by Beck Hansen, who appears to be the only member of the Church of Scientology who’s anywhere near normal.
While Beck’s production skills and backing instrumentation are superlative, Gainsbourg’s vocals are anything but: she seems almost entirely incapable of holding a tune, and is slightly flat nearly all of the time—a handicap that is particularly evident when she has whole verses alone on tracks like the lead single “Heaven Can Wait,” and “Me and Jane Doe”—the latter of which actually contains the lyric “Me and Jane Doe and Rousseau.”. “Time of the Assassins,” a ’60s-inspired folk tune, is pleasant if utterly dull, and the slightly grungy Shirley Manson-esque track “Trick Pony” is probably the most interesting and aurally arresting on the whole album. “Greenwich Mean Time” should have been thrown out before the album was mastered, and “Dandelion,” a silly little countrified ditty, was, hopefully, recorded only at Gainsbourg’s insistence. Elsewhere, “Le Chat du Café des Artistes” and “Voyage” both sound like they borrowed their string and percussion sections from one of composer David Arnold’s ostentatious James Bond scores. While “Master’s Hands” opens the album on a strong, bold note, “La Collectioneuse,” the record’s ‘arty’ parting shot, is pretentious in the way only someone like Gainsbourg could be: she quotes Apollinaire.