It seems like a really weird idea to fill out half of a new album with live versions of songs from an artist’s old ones, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Charlotte Gainsbourg. The incredibly gifted actress and musician, who escaped second-generation dismissal as the daughter of French pop icon Serge Gainsbourg thanks to two great albums and performances in films like 21 Grams, Antichrist and Melancholia, really crafts more of a companion piece to Irm with her latest, Stage Whispers, but in combining new tracks with live interpretations (and reinterpretations) of old ones, she demonstrates she’s possessed of her own version of her father’s chameleonic dexterity, not to mention seemingly limitless skill.
Remarkably, where her father’s musical evolution seemed to take place incrementally, a sort of maturation combined with a fearless sense of exploration, Charlotte emerged almost fully-formed as a musician (her teenage album Lemon Incest notwithstanding), even if her eclecticism seemed temporarily delayed so that her fans could indulge their Gainsbourg father’s-daughter fantasies. (5:55 is its own sort of masterpiece, cemented by elegant production by Air and songwriting from Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, but its nostalgic polish seems to reflect our appetites moreso than her own.) Irm was decidedly scruffier, a jangling indie-rock party where she was the girl you traded glances with while producer/ collaborator Beck got out the kitchen sink. But from its first track, “Terrible Angels,” Stage Whispers shows even more confidence from Charlotte, leaping from Goldfrapp-style electronica to Kitsune-esque dance-pop to decidedly Beckish non-sequitur balladeering with an ease and dexterity that suggests she’s evolved from collaborator to commander of these compositions.
Beck’s musical flourishes in these tracks are icing on an already rich cake, from the George Harrison-style guitar in “Out Of Touch” to the over-miked drums on “All The Rain,” but it’s really Charlotte who gives them an emotional immediacy that not only makes them powerful and memorable but distinguishes her musical oeuvre from her father. Where Serge alternated between lighthearted pop, cinematic tableaus and genre mash-ups, Charlotte cuts straight to the heart of a feeling, if admittedly via lyricism that evokes Beck’s obliqueness, and creates a sense of immediacy that’s both musically and emotionally dense.
And then, of course, there’s the eleven live tracks that complete the disc, which in varying forms reinvent her existing catalogue. While they’re unnecessary given the quality of the eight full-bodied new songs, they’re a welcome reward for both existing and new fans – for longtime listeners, renditions of already-beloved tracks in unheard arrangements, and for newcomers, an overview of her work to date that highlights her versatility and virtuosity. Ultimately, Stage Whispers says a lot more about Charlotte than almost anything she’s released thus far, making it surprisingly satisfying as an entrée to her work rather than the remnants of a meal already tasted.
CraveOnline Rating: 9 out of 10