Charlotte Gainsbourg: Stage Whisper

Following a minor water-skiing accident in 2007, the controversial and gutsy Antichrist actress, Charlotte Gainsbourg, suffered a brain hemorrhage that should technically have left her dead. Up until this point, she says, she had never felt fragile. Though her recuperation was frustratingly slow and tentative, it gave rise to a new side to Serge’s multi-faceted daughter, showcased in a highly-acclaimed 2009 collaboration with Beck: IRM. The album – largely based on the “delirium” of her almost-daily MRI scans – is a dystopian mesh of guitars and synths that carry Gainsbourg’s delicate voice, in a way that captured an unprecedented volume of listeners. One of the tracks has even made it onto FIFA ’11 – an achievement many musicians can but dream of.

So, having proved such a successful collaboration, Gainsbourg and Beck are now back with more. Stage Whisper, a double album that directly builds on IRM, consists of various unreleased tracks from their first studio session, and some specially selected live recordings of Gainsbourg’s own work and covers.

Like IRM, it has aspects of the old, soft teenager that debuted on one of her dad’s pop singles, with the grating edge that has earned Beck his reputation as one of the most successful experimentalists of modern music. In many ways, however, this album shows a much more developed and mature collaboration between Beck’s music and Gainsbourg’s voice. Songs like ‘Memoir’, for example, play up to the childishness of Gainsbourg’s voice as nearly she whispers the lyrics along to Beck’s more powerful synth and guitar that wrestles her out of the danger-zone of indie folk. Yet on ‘White Telephone’ her voice is a much greater force – dull and driving, backed by ethereal chimes. The standout tracks on this side though are ‘Terrible Angels’ and ‘Paradisco’ that team girly vocals with a heavier electro bass-line.

Many have branded the second half as B-sides that are just a plus for the Charlotte Gainsbourg anoraks out there. While it’s definitely true that for the big fans out there this will be something of a jackpot, it is also a great piece for any casual listener. Her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like a Woman’ is a compellingly tender and seductive piece in contrast with the original, and ‘AF607105’ – a Jarvis Cocker-penned song from her 2006 album, 5:55, weaves in seamlessly with the first side of Stage Whisper.

As a development of her previous album, it isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, and unfortunately the music videos are nowhere near as stellar as ‘Heaven Can Wait’, which featured an astronaut made of pancakes, but it is certainly another well-crafted compilation.