Charlotte Gainsbourg @ Hiro Ballroom, New York – Jan 23 2010

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  • Charlotte Gainsbourg, Hiro Ballroom, Maritime Hotel, New York, By Emily Stokes, Financial Times, January 27 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, is no stranger to the limelight, but she has always avoided live tours – due, she says, to stage fright. She has changed her ways for the release of IRM, an album written and produced by Beck Hansen. The songs are based on Gainsbourg’s recent experiences of MRI brain scans after a water-skiing accident and, she recently explained, are supposed to be scary – so it was fitting that she looked apprehensive throughout. (Her husband, actor Yvan Attal, supervised from the side like an anxious parent.)

New Yorkers know Gainsbourg as an actor; she most recently played the demonic mother in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist . But for the predominantly French audience at the Hiro Ballroom, Gainsbourg was the same 14-year-old who sang sweet nothings with her father in that worryingly erotic chanson of 1984, “Lemon Incest”. Her musical persona still retains that same combination of vulnerability and sex appeal. “Just Like a Woman”, which she first performed in the 2007 biopic I’m Not There, was half-spoken in a shy but breathy murmur.

Gainsbourg never quite owned lyrics by Air and Jarvis Cocker in her 2006 album 5:55, but Beck’s songs in IRM are more carefully custom-made. In the album’s title track, Gainsbourg’s perfectly English accent and chanted vocals (“Tell me where your trauma lies”) sounded tinny but powerful against the jarring rhythms of an MRI scan; she added to the beat with her own drumsticks, nervously at first, then more energetically, as if hammering out a bad memory.

Such fresh, intriguing pop holds together under difficult conditions, even if Beck’s dense electronic arrangements make them tricky to perform live with any real fireworks. Her performance was decidedly understated; she adopted the pop noir of her parents in “Time of the Assassins” without a hint of cabaret, and barely noticed the audience’s appreciation of the deceptively jaunty “Masters Hands” and the bluesy duet, “Heaven Can Wait”. Meek vocals got buried in the layers of “The Collector”; rockier numbers such as “Trick Pony” could have done with a little more attitude. But – as a final rendition of her father’s “Sorry Angel” proved – sometimes just whispering in French is enough to make a crowd go wild. (3 star rating)

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Aurélie M

Je tweet, je blog, je tumblr, je facebook, je Google+ sur Charlotte et Serge Gainsbourg. Je me souviens être tombée sous le charme de Charlotte dans l’Effrontée, de fil en aiguille, j’ai ensuite développé une passion pour la musique de Serge. Qui j’aime le plus des deux ? Je ne saurais dire.

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