ALBUM REVIEW: Charlotte Gainsbourg – Stage Whisper

Written for the DIY

Released to tide over fans between releases, Stage Whisper follows Gainsbourg’s critically-acclaimed album IRM, released in 2009, which was recorded soon after the actress-cum-singer (singer-cum-actress? Maybe the less said about “Lemon Incest”, the single she put out with father Serge when she was twelve, the better) suffered a near-fatal cerebral hemorrhage.

The first disc of Stage Whisper is the party bag Charlotte Gainsbourg hands out to people after they leave the main celebration of IRM. A bit of a mixed bag. It consists of outtakes from that album that range from the sort that remind you of how brilliant that album could be sometimes, in its pursuit of slightly off-kilter but satisfying pop – something producer/songwriter Beck knows a thing or ten about – such as “Terrible Angels”’ Goldfrapp-bothering glam, to others, the slighter ones, which are far less satisfying; the ones that teases you by reminding you of that wonderful night without offering the full experience (specifically “Out Of Touch” which, compared to the almost Spector wall-of-sound backing on the rest of the tracks sounds like an early, stripped-down demo).

As for the second disc… we don’t have a clever metaphor for that. The second disc of Stage Whisper is the stage part. Gainsbourg’s touring band sound tight, replicating material from IRM and 2006’s 5:55 efficiently, if unexcitingly. It soon becomes clear Gainsbourg’s thin, cut-glass vocals work a lot better in a studio than in live performance; they get lost in the shuffle rather than working as another important piece of each song’s machinery. Either way, the audience seem receptive, even with a disappointing cover of Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”.

Part of the reason the second disc is such a let down is that Gainsbourg in the studio is not someone who is overwhelmed by the myriad other performers involved. She’s collaborated with everyone from Beck, Air, Jarvis Cocker, Neil Hannon, to Conor O’Brien of Villagers. In every case, it’s been a these artists were facilitators, and Gainsbourg remained the star of the show. To see her relegated to almost a supporting role is a little frustrating.

That said, the best cut from this two-CD collection is, in fact, a duet. Who better than Charlie Fink, of Noah & The Whale, to pop in during “Come To Let Go”, being as he is something of a veteran of lovelorn pop, and his measured vocals harmonise wonderfully with Gainsbourg’s own restrained performance. Perfect, slightly-off kilter, satisfying pop, that.



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