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Charlotte Gainsbourg is gaining hipster cachet in both film and music.


  • Charlotte Gainsbourg
  • Because Music/Warner

Charlotte Gainsbourg must have had a sense of déjà vu at Cannes last spring, as the film world goggled at Antichrist , in which the sylph-like French actress plays a bereaved mother who purges her grief through genital mutilation. Gainsbourg's very first screen role was also a shocker: as a real-life 12-year-old lolling in her underpants on a big bed with her pervy-brilliant father, Serge Gainsbourg, in his 1984 video for Lemon Incest (a not very brilliant Chopin rip-off).

Her film and music careers have bumped along ever since, usually to good reviews, always with an incremental gain in her hipster cachet, as the talented daughter of an iconic songwriter and his muse, Jane Birkin. For IRM , Gainsbourg followed her mother's lead and made herself the instrument of another strongly individual musician, Beck.

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Beck wrote and played all the music on IRM with his own band and produced all the tracks. He and Gainsbourg collaborated on the lyrics, which seem to reflect the depressive state of her character in Antichrist (for which she won the best actress award at Cannes).

"She's sliding, down to the dregs of the world," they sing in Heaven Can Wait , their only duet on the disc. The album is full of wishes that won't come true, dreams that end in defeat and isolation, and sinister plays on nursery rhymes.

You can get the measure of IRM 's stylistic range by listening to just two adjacent tracks: In the End , which has the sound and feeling of a posh sixties folk ballad (with a sweet, spidery tune and a boldly asymmetric verse-chorus structure), and the title song, a brittle electronic drums-and-bass number about the queasy nexus between fear and clinical diagnostic equipment (IRM is French for MRI).

Working with someone else's voice seems to have done wonders for Beck, whose work here is at least as good as much of his own recent stuff. His way of dealing with Gainsbourg's breathy small voice (not much changed since she was 12) is often to go the other way, into harder, bigger sounds, with heavy beats and dirty guitars (as in Trick Pony , a drugged-out little masterpiece of emotional evasion).

The other woman who should get credit is M.I.A., whose percussive mongrel sounds and girl-woman style seem to have made a big impression on Beck. I can easily imagine her singing Greenwich Mean Time , a bent nursery-rhyme ditty with heavy drums and Chinese-sounding guitars, though the overall feeling of IRM is something you won't get from any other record this year.

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