It’s a lesson that Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe and Milla Jovovich learned the hard way: nobody wants to hear actors and models sing. Well, their own material at least – there’s actually an honourable history of celebrity albums in which ingenue meets pop genius. Recently, Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him upheld the tradition thanks to a cool collaboration with indie-rocker M Ward, but the practice really began with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, aka Charlotte Gainsbourg’s mum and dad.
If we ignore the 1986 collaboration with her father, 38-year-old Charlotte’s true musical debut came in 2006 with 5:55, a slick, chilled French chanteuse album steered by Nigel Godrich, producer of Air, Jarvis Cocker and Radiohead. The results were chic and cosmopolitan but, for this follow-up, the 2009 Cannes Film Fest Best Actress winner partnered with one brain: postmodern troubadour Beck, who handles almost everything here aside from the seductive vocals.
So, in many ways, IRM sounds more like a new Beck record, a summation of his last decade and one of his best yet. You get funky collage (‘IRM’ and ‘Voyage’), symphonic balladry (‘Time of the Assassins’), junkyard blues (‘Greenwich Mean Time’, ‘Trick Pony’) and melancholic folk (‘Me and Jane Doe’), all peppered with brooding strings, toy instruments, echoing backup harmonies and other playful sonic curveballs.
It’d be scatterbrained if not for the angelic presence of Gainsbourg, whose fragile, come-hither cooing turns all this arcane poetry and cut-and-paste scrap work into a rollercoaster dream (supposedly inspired by a brain haemorrhage suffered in a waterskiing spill). The screen beauty binds the first great album of 2010 together with – what else? – character.
Available now online.