French, by-and-large, is a language of the sensual.
Vivid and weaving like a ribbon, it wraps itself in forms and shapes that bewilder, not by overbearing movement, but by deliberate, under the surface fluidity. No one notices the muscles stitching, only the tapestry flowing.
(And for the casual reader wonder what the hell the title means: “The hurt, the sensual and her bilingual instincts”)
In a direct indirectness all too familiar to him, Albert Camus once wrote:
« Vous savez ce qu’est le charme : une manière de s’entendre répondre oui sans avoir posé aucune question claire… »
In other words: “You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer ‘yes’ without having asked any clear question.” This kind of charm permeates the French language: the answers oblique, obfuscate the related question. Causality and correlation ebb and flow, long stitches pulled tight to make a tapestry.
It’s a far cry from English, whose syllabic stresses swing along the brass bob, tick-to-tock, to-and-fro, word-to-word. Every second falls on top of the next, every minute dives along the face, comes to surface at the 12, then plunges again.
It’s a grandfather clock built and rebuilt and built again with parts new and foreign.
Finger a gear here, bolt a bolt there, steal face from somewhere. It’s hard to negotiate a language of parts with a language of wholes. Rendering French to English requires a translator who understands how to translate the fabric face to a clock arm’s pace, « l’on qui comprends la manière dont le drapeau déroule et les heures hurlent. »
In other words: “one who understands how the flag unfurls and the hours howl.”
Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg understands this bilingual besoin for expertise and how fine it must be tuned.
Working with the expert mixing hands of SebastiAn, Gainsbourg and her electric romances produces a no less fine record. Moving from the mad love of Sylvia Plath to morbid memories of family, Gainsbourg waxes love and death while SebastiAn works, needle and hammer, to bring this poetry alive.
Recruiting Emile Sornin, the two fill out the dark lyrics with percussive production, rendering the cuts flush with electric pianos, harpsichords, glockenspiels, synthesizers. Cuts sear en cire, Gainsbourg’s voice melts along the instruments like the hot wax of a low candleflame, dripping over the body of a Rhodes piano on “Lying with You,” only to explode with the strings en feu et en memoire of “Kate.”
Summoning ghosts gone and phantoms past, it only feels right that the production sees itself a Spector in the mirror. Walls of sound bleed textures, topped out electric but never over-top electronic, SebastiAn crafts red rooms of R&B.
On “Deadly Valentine” this summoner’s music is no more prevalent but instead of miring in morbidity, it dances in the doom and gloom. Between a piano break and Gainsbourg’s English lyrics, each note falls with a drip and a drop—a poison on the heart.
Add in flairs of be-Spector’d strings and this cut is lethal.
However, it’s not only SebastiAn and the spirit of rock producers past that wants to work with Gainsbourg. Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, half of the Daft Punk robot DJ duo finds work here as well.
In fact, halfway through “Rest” if you aren’t think about Random Access Memories, then something is wrong. The electric piano coos and recalls the soft keyboards of “The Game of Love” and Gainsbourg takes it from there:
Prends-moi la main, s’il te plaît (Take my hand please)
Ne me laisse pas m’envoler (Don’t let me fly away)
Reste avec moi, s’il te plaît (Stay with me please)
Ne me laisse pas t’oublier (Don’t let me forget you)
Each word pulses with that piano and even if French sounds like a langue inconnue, the soft whispers should make it clear: this cut is made for the soft whisper in your ear, for the playful scratch down your neck, for the goo-e-oo-e goosebumps along your skin.
It’s tempting to call this a “Je t’aime… moi non plus” part two, mais non! This product is nothing but Gainsbourg and de Homem-Christo. And the bye track gives SebastiAn time to pull off the home stretch of sex and drama of Rest.
Taking a leaf out of Picasso’s playbook, Gainsbourg takes a whole branch out of Plath’s piece “Mad Girl’s Love Song” to give some lyrical smacks for a slap bass, drum machine and some bells. Plath is the last person I would suspect to inform a funk cut but if the key to funk is to get weird, there is no weirder or fiercer than Plath herself.
And the album ends there right? “No,” says the plodding, back-and-forth English rhythm of Paul McCartney’s piano. No stranger to charm, McCartney gives Gainsbourg the Steve Miller treatment and SebastiAn a damn good musician to mix.
Two tunes later and riding along the back and forth bilingualism, the record finally finds a chance to stop when Gainsbourg drops the mike with a disco track “Les oxalis” and SebastiAn picks it up from there. Worldly rhythm, a conga section and glockenspiels rally the cut to a harpsichord and philicorda duet before bathing in the silence of an ellipsis…
Then in pure reverb and piano-filled drama, Gainsbourg’s daughter sings an English alphabet, as if to capitalize the graves of the past with a flower of the future. No clear question was asked for the album to end in this manner, but nonetheless, it brings the record to a charming end, a childlike wonder.
A simple yes.
Quick Impressions: Charlotte Gainsbourg has always been for real, but after time off, vocal chords oxidize. With a nostalgic shake, shiver and quake, however, the rust falls off on Rest and reveals a Gainsbourg no worse for wear. Paired with SebastiAn, the album sounds like fresh discopop dreams with new wave nightmares.
Producers: SebastiAn, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Danger Mouse
Genres: Dreampop, electropop, R&B
- “Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses”
- “Lying with You”
- “Deadly Valentine”
- “I’m a Lie”
- “Sylvia Says”
- “Songbird in a Cage”
- “Dans vos airs
- “Les crocodiles”
- “Les oxalis”