One of 2010’s first great examples of accomplished, adult pop.
Daryl Easlea 2010
Between this, her third album, and 2006’s 5:55, Charlotte Gainsbourg – actress, singer and French icon – suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. IRM (the French for MRI) is exactly the sort of record an artist who has endured a life-threatening condition should make: deeply reflective yet questioningly optimistic.
IRM was recorded with Beck and written largely by him from lyrical scraps passed on by Gainsbourg. The works of Apollinaire, and Through the Looking Glass, were used as their guides, as the duo created something informed by both their pasts, yet not obsessively wedded to it.
It is full of invention. The title track takes a sample of an MRI machine and uses it as an instrument, akin to a guitar solo. The moving Vanities has a dramatic string arrangement by Beck’s father, David Campbell, which adds to the track’s unrelenting intensity. Dandelion, a most basic glam-blues number, sounds like something from the first T. Rex album. It is probably the point where it all works best. Beck's work as a pasticheur is made real by Gainsbourg's gentle sincerity.
Beck successfully avoids creating a Serge Gainsbourg tribute record. It’s only on Le Chat du Café des Artists – with its breathy, whispered vocals over its dark, densely orchestrated backdrop – that he can’t resist stylistically referencing Charlotte’s father’s Histoire de Melody Nelson album, one of Beck’s favourite works. That said, producer Nigel Godrich did the same on 5:55. The temptation simply must be too great.
Although conceived as a sister album to 5:55, this is much more than a mere sequel – at times it is so minimal and skeletal, the songs are in need of intensive care. Yet it is unafraid to rock (Trick Pony, Dandelion) or be resolutely commercial – the duet with Beck and lead single, Heaven Can Wait, and Time of the Assassins are surprisingly perky pop tracks that reveal gorgeous melodies.
The result is as unsettling as it is uplifting. Although her last album sold half a million worldwide, Charlotte Gainsbourg remains very much a delicacy in the UK. The deeply moving and organic IRM deserves a wider audience, as it is one of 2010’s first great examples of accomplished, adult pop.