Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Charlotte Gainsbourg, "5 55"

Songs from this album have been cycling through my iPod, rubbing shoulders with songs by famous actress (and occasional singer) Charlotte's even more famous father. When one of her songs comes up on shuffle, I usually find myself clamouring through my short-term memory, trying to recall which early 70's album I chose to upload to my iPod. Since the early 70's are pretty much a black hole as far as my music collection goes, my confusion tends to last until her voice appears in the song. So she's got the authenticity thing downpat, effortlessly apeing the sweeping exotica of albums such as "Histoire de Melody Nelson". The string arrangements are highly reliable ear-candy, they practically write themselves. Elsewhere, she slips easily between English and French lyrics, and even makes forays into Travis-esque grandma-indie ("The Song That We Sing" is a dead ringer for "Flowers in the Window"). Her breathy, half-bored, half-sex kitten vocals sound completely effortless, you get the feeling that she could churn them out all day long without breaking a sweat.

On the other hand, the lack of variety in her singing style likely indicates that she did spend many days in the studio, purring out the same semi-spoken lines on song after song. You get the cynical feeling that if she simply wanted to sing on autopilot while recreating the sounds of her father's most fertile period, then why bother in the first place? Does such an album need to exist? So let's put all that baggage aside and judge the album more straightforwardly -- are the tunes any good? Fortunately, many of them are. In particular, the title track is as good as anything Serge did in that style circa "Melody Nelson". The album's easygoing, pastoral feel isn't too far from what Rachel Goswell was aiming for on her dreadfully boring (save for one track, "Coastline", which is several shades of awesome) solo record "Waves Are Universal". Over the course of forty minutes, the album's tranquility gradually turns it into easily ignorable background music, sweet and pleasant but nothing too notable overall. A mini-album might have been a better idea, either that, or let the listener beware: only listen to three or four tracks at a time, lest you start to forget that the album is even playing.

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