Charlotte Gainsbourg: Stage Whisper
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Stage Whisper
Released December 2011 on Elektra / Because
Charlotte Gainsbourg has been in the public eye for most of her life. She's been acting since she was 13, and the first glimmers of her parallel musical career date to the same year, when she dueted with her father, Serge Gainsbourg, on a song called "Lemon Incest". He produced her first album two years later, in 1986, but she left music alone for more than a decade after that, and didn't pick up her solo career again until 2006. I don't know the reasons for the long pause, but I do think that waiting so long to restart her singing career allowed her to create distance between her own identity as a performer and an identity guided by her father. In Air, Jarvis Cocker, and more recently, Beck, she found collaborators who could pitch material perfectly for her-- she doesn't project a huge personality on her records, but she sounds at home in the paleofuturistic musical worlds of her albums, calmly detailing airplane crashes, medical procedures, and a long catalog of ruminations on mortality.
Gainsbourg had her third child earlier this year, which makes the time ripe for a gap-filling release of some sort, and Stage Whisper fills that bill, splitting itself between live recordings of songs from her two most recent LPs, IRM and 5:55, and unreleased studio tracks. Both sections of the record pick up the thread Gainsbourg began unraveling with Beck on IRM. The songs from that album are put forth in all their buzzy glory, with the emphasis on the most kinetic tracks: "IRM", "Trick Pony", and "Voyage" are all among the highlights.
The relatively smooth edges of the 5:55 material are hammered a little rougher by her touring band. The Cocker-penned "Set Yourself on Fire" sounds great with a generous helping of fuzz guitar muddying the hook. Gainsbourg's ability to blend into her audio environments is usually an asset on her albums, but on the live recordings it means she doesn't really command the spotlight-- the performance is fine, but there aren't any revelations in her on-stage readings of the material. As if to emphasize the point, the worst thing here is easily the sleepy cover of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", which seems to rest entirely on the premise of a gender switch by the singer, a switch that's not compelling on its own. The new energy heard in some of these songs comes from the revamped arrangements, and listening to the live songs is essentially the same as listening to studio recordings-- the presence of an audience doesn't seem to change her performance dynamic.
The new studio material mostly builds directly on IRM. "Terrible Angels", produced by Beck, is a buzzing, fizzy concoction not far outside the realm of what Broadcast were doing prior to the death of Trish Keenan, though it's not as unstable. It has that same effect of sounding like the past and the future at once, though. Gainsbourg has the perfect cold, even vocal tone for electro-pop, and a few of these songs go there. "All the Rain" is a nice cousin to "Trick Pony", and "Paradisco" makes good use of her soft voice against a hard beat. On the whole, Stage Whisper is enjoyable, but the live portion is dispensible, and the new studio tracks, which will likely please anyone taken with IRM, are the real draw.
By Joe Tangari