- Audio CD (25 Jan. 2010)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: CD
- Label: Because Music
- ASIN: B002QXI2WW
- Other Editions: Audio CD | Vinyl | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 113,977 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Between this, her third album, and 2006’s 5:55, Charlotte Gainsbourg – actress, singer and French icon – suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. IRM (the French for MRI) is exactly the sort of record an artist who has endured a life-threatening condition should make: deeply reflective yet questioningly optimistic.
IRM was recorded with Beck and written largely by him from lyrical scraps passed on by Gainsbourg. The works of Apollinaire, and Through the Looking Glass, were used as their guides, as the duo created something informed by both their pasts, yet not obsessively wedded to it.
It is full of invention. The title track takes a sample of an MRI machine and uses it as an instrument, akin to a guitar solo. The moving Vanities has a dramatic string arrangement by Beck’s father, David Campbell, which adds to the track’s unrelenting intensity. Dandelion, a most basic glam-blues number, sounds like something from the first T. Rex album. It is probably the point where it all works best. Beck's work as a pasticheur is made real by Gainsbourg's gentle sincerity.
Beck successfully avoids creating a Serge Gainsbourg tribute record. It’s only on Le Chat du Café des Artists – with its breathy, whispered vocals over its dark, densely orchestrated backdrop – that he can’t resist stylistically referencing Charlotte’s father’s Histoire de Melody Nelson album, one of Beck’s favourite works. That said, producer Nigel Godrich did the same on 5:55. The temptation simply must be too great.
Although conceived as a sister album to 5:55, this is much more than a mere sequel – at times it is so minimal and skeletal, the songs are in need of intensive care. Yet it is unafraid to rock (Trick Pony, Dandelion) or be resolutely commercial – the duet with Beck and lead single, Heaven Can Wait, and Time of the Assassins are surprisingly perky pop tracks that reveal gorgeous melodies.
The result is as unsettling as it is uplifting. Although her last album sold half a million worldwide, Charlotte Gainsbourg remains very much a delicacy in the UK. The deeply moving and organic IRM deserves a wider audience, as it is one of 2010’s first great examples of accomplished, adult pop. --Daryl Easlea
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Top customer reviews
A great work from an excellent singer and a great way for me to discover Beck, which I didn't knew before.
Following a serious water-skiing accident in 2007
Ms Gainbourg sustained a life-threatening brain injury.
The experience of that trauma, the surgery and subsequent
MRI monitoring form the inspiration and backdrop to this
uniquely personal collaboration with American songwriter/
producer Beck. That she faced the experience head-on
(so-to-speak) and delivered this fine album is to be applauded.
The reflections of that difficult time are handled in lyrics
which are subtle, unaffected, ambiguous and deeply personal.
The thirteen songs in this collection display a wide range
of emotions and atmospheres. From fear and fragmentation :
'Master's Hands' and 'IRM'; through stubborn hope :
'In The End' - a stompingly good song!; self re-evaluation :
the profoundly beautiful 'Burning Vanities'; dark nightmares :
the disturbingly surreal 'Trick Pony' and 'Greenwich Mean Time';
the optimistic four-square blues of 'Dandelion' and on the final
track 'La Collectionneuse' transformation and redemption.
Ms Gainsbourg's voice has never been a great instrument but
what she has she uses well. Her breathy tones complement the
dream-like quality of much of the subject matter perfectly.
Beck's compositional and production skill puts flesh on the bones
of these elusive and ephemeral psycho/physical experiences with
intelligently complex musicality. Sometimes stripped down to almost
nothing; sometimes richly-layered and wonderfully exotic.
For my money the string and percussion arrangement of 'Voyage'
forms the fast beating heart of this quietly visionary project.
Ms Gainsbourg deserves our admiration for exorcising her demons in
such a publicly vibrant way. The total absence of narcissism and
self-pity is refreshing given the painful truth of its conception.
You can tell that Beck Hansen has produced it as it has his patented sound all over it. The low-fi drums, spazmodic guitars, warm strings and quirky riffs. But above all - absorbingly catchy hooks.
Charlotte's vocals are really well suited to the musical style as she always delivers clearly and seems to really enjoy inevitable cool atmosphere that the songs exude.
Check it out on the download section - IRM
On "5:55", which I rated rather highly a few years ago, Charlotte worked with a production team that understood that the only way to make her light, spoken-word singing voice work, was to complement it with strings, violins, and quiet piano interludes. Add to this a medium dose of musical experimentation, and an epic was born. "5:55" found and captured something that no other album has been able to since, and it is truly a unique work in more ways than one. From the jangly musical perfection that is "Everything I Cannot See" to the ponderous morbidity of "The Operation", its something best appreciated by lovers of the independent French music scene, of which thankfully I am a subscriber.
Post "Antichrist" and her much publicized accident, Gainsbourg returns with an album that could possibly even perplex Serge. The immediate sense of coherency that heralded "5:55" is missing here, with lead (and standout) track "IRM" setting the tone for a curious oddity, an album where the stakes are higher, the experimentation more visible, and the voice showing absolutely no signs of evolution at all. While Gainsbourg is certainly alluding to her time spent with the magnetic equipment that discerned her injuries at the time, the song itself is an ode to the clunky bit of equipment an MRI machine really is. With Beck at the forefront, one would expect no less, but in stark contrast to lead single from "5:55" ("The Songs that we Sing"), "IRM" is not instantly memorable, and nor is it meant to be. In that context I would readily compare it to Bjork Gudmundsdottir's "Cvalda" from "Selmasongs", or indeed, the entire "Drawing Restraint 9" project by Matthew Barney.
Shades of Jane Birkin crop up on the albums' only real duet (though joint production credits abound elsewhere). "Heaven Can Wait", while sporting a now infamous video, is a somber take on a nursery rhyme gone wrong, and instead works as a silent lamentation on all things lost. Serge Gainsbourg's work towards the end of his career focused on topics such as death, loss, grief and in typical fashion he bounced back from these with jolly ditties written to the follies of love and alcohol. This gene seems to have skipped Charlotte, as she seems even more depressed on "IRM" than she ever has (the album makes her '80s debut "Lemon Incest" seem like a fun day at the circus).
Indeed, the sinister and morbid songwriting only elevate the overall tone of the music, as "In The End", a classic piece of French pop if there ever was one. The track combines the best of the 1960s French yeye stylings with a more British Invasion feel that underscores its' simplicity. But the lyrics! How clever these songwriters were, and Charlotte's airy vocals, often conveying almost nothing, do well in such dark surroundings. Consider this a companion piece to the novella "My Life in Rose Red" and you wouldn't be much off the mark.
M.I.A's contribution is as stellar as Becks, especially on 'Greenwich Mean Time', which is infinitely more adventurous than anything on "5:55" or even on anything else on "IRM". Its moments like these when Gainsbourg lets loose, Yoko Ono style, that a true glimmer of her personality shines through, and its every bit as guarded and disturbed as her lead role in "Antichrist" would let us believe. This is not a pretty, happy record. But it is an essential one, and clearly one of the frontrunners for Album of the Year.
Four and a Half Stars. Indispensable.