Charlotte Gainsbourg - Stage Whisper Album Review
Charlotte Gainsbourg is a talented actress as well as a singer. I would suggest, should the chance arise and if she were offered it, her most suitable roll at the moment would be a part in The Borrowers. Whilst 'Stage Whisper', Charlotte's double album of live and previously unreleased material may not be blatant plagiarism it may be a case of cryptomnesia. Even the most lauded of authors, let alone mere French 'pop stars', can be held accountable so why not? Robert Louis Stevenson was apparently, albeit some years later, openly honest about his 'inspirations' for Treasure Island. Whether Charlotte will be tempted into any such admission about 'Terrible Angels' being ripped from the heart of 'Supernature' remains to be seen.
The first of her studio tracks is a fabulously sexy dance floor filler full of sleazy synth bass beats and disaffected but alluring vocals. The chic, sleek, polished sheen of the seismic production only adds to the obvious comparisons that can be drawn to classic Goldfrappery. Only a slightly more subtle acquisition is made for the opening bars of 'Paradisco' where the borrowed bass riff from 'Another One Biters The Dust' finds itself mutated onto the Gainsbourg backing track. The kleptomania doesn't end there though. With 'Got To Let Go' Charlotte takes a cue from Claudia Brucken on song interpretation as she goes all Femme Fatale for this, M.I.A sampling, down tempo duet with Charlie Fink. After getting all spaced out with Kiwi Conan Mockasin on 'Out Of Touch' the non-live CD is brought to an end with the Villager's Conor O'Brien penned track 'Memoir'. This time Gainsbourg chooses to pick the pocket of one Leonard Cohen, delivering up a near spoken word vocal to frame the poetic prose.
The live CD draws, in the most part, from her limited back catalogue for the eleven track set. Whilst it will satisfy her burgeoning fanbase it does at times show up the frailty of her rather petite voice. The electronica of IRM, taken from her critically acclaimed Beck written and produced album of the same name, is a great starting point though. The futuristic backdrop creates an industrial pulsating amalgam of machinery and music. 'Set Yourself On Fire' and 'Jamias', two of Jarvis Cocker's numbers from '5.55', follow, the former sounding at times a little like Soiuxsie & The Banshees but the vocal sadly lacks Siouxsie Sioux's power and passion. 'Heaven Can Wait' with its poppier beat and lighter feel suites Gainsbourg far better and her performance seems more assured and confident. The more delicate arrangement of the folksie 'In The End' is similarly effective but she can't quite hold it all together for her lack-lustre Dylan cover 'Just Like A Woman'. The big production and larger wall of sound created on tracks like 'The Operation' and 'Trick Pony' are probably a better vehicle for her in the live arena, partially because they can help disguise some of her weaknesses.
All this may lead you to believe Charlotte Gainsbourg is a less than credible singer, not the real deal, not worthy of attention or at the very least unoriginal. Well you'd be wrong. The French chanteuse is highly original and has a very pleasant, beautifully affected, singing voice. She may not qualify as the most prolific person in terms of musical output. At forty one years of age she's no spring chicken and this is only her fourth album. Charlotte has been making up for lost time though and her last three, '5.55', 'IRM' and this one have all been within the last six years.
Whilst Stage Whisper, an ironic choice of title, is clearly only a stop-gap before her next release proper it does still contain some good material. It is questionable whether or not she is suited to the live format but she certainly has a voice full of character and charm.