Reviews: Charlotte Gainsbourg, "IRM"; Everybody was in the French Resistance, "Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1"

January 26, 2010


With a pioneering sound mixing jazz, pop and world rhythms and a unique sing-speak delivery that made every line sound like a lewd double entendre, Serge Gainsbourg was a French cabaret artist whose best work was done in the late '60s. Thanks to hip rockers such as Beck, Stereolab and Luna, he was the subject of a celebratory rediscovery in the mid-'90s, but his influence now looms larger than ever in the musical underground, as evidenced by these two recent releases.

The daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and his muse and frequent duet partner, British actress Jane Birkin, Charlotte has made her biggest impact to date as an actress, with credits including Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep" and the recent "Antichrist." But she also has been recording since age 13, and for her third and best album "IRM," she paired with Beck to produce a set of 13 tunes that are as strikingly original and heartfelt musically as they are lyrically.

There are hints of her father's dark pop, smoky jazz and conversational vocals, as well as touches of the melancholy electronic folk-rock of Beck's classic "Sea Change." But there also is a strength and self-assurance in Gainsbourg's limited but distinctive voice that marks her as her own artist. The poignant themes of songs such as "Heaven Can Wait" also resonate, chronicling her near-death experience after a brain injury resulting from a water-skiing accident ("IRM" is the French acronym for an MRI). The effect is like intimate journal entries from the other side.

Embracing the campier side of Serge Gainsbourg's musical legacy, Eddie Argos, moonlighting from his role as front man of comical indie-rockers Art Brut, and his girlfriend, Dyan Valdes, seek to replicate the Gainsbourg/Birkin couplings on their 12-song debut as Everybody Was in the French Resistance. Every tune was conceived as an "answer song"--sometimes very loosely, a la Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville"--to a classic pop ditty by a diverse group of artists ranging from the Mamas and the Papas and the Archies to Kanye West and Avril Lavigne.

The musical backings are strictly minimalist four-track bedroom rock, and Argos' sung/spoken delivery can get a bit monotonous, as it does with Art Brut. But Valdes' similarly narrow vocals at least offer a bit of variety, and the cheerful, hooky exuberance of a couple of devoted music geeks expressing their love for music and one another while goofing around in the studio ultimately is hard to resist.