posted on December 14, 2009 18:00
A quick round up of some notes in the parish bulletin:
First, we lend a metaphorical cup of sugar to our new neighbour, 'Alternative Tunings'. Written by Aideen O'Flaherty, it's a blog featuring stuff that isn't obscure French indie-pop or the continuing adventures of the Gainsbourg family, but don't let that put you off. Already, in her very first post, Aideen has spoiled you with five promising new Dublin bands, so 'Alternative Tunings' should be worth checking out regularly.
Second, this blog will have its annual Best French Music list in the last week of the year. And, it being also the last week of the decade, we'll hop on the bandwagon and do a version 2000-09 as well. Drop us a comment, mail or tweet if you have suggestions or strong feelings on the matter.
Third, it's Christmas here in Paris. (Coincidentally, it's Christmas in Ireland around now too.) We told you last year how the French don't do Christmas songs - but they make up for it in Christmas lights. Department stores here are dazzling and the Champs-Elysées, if you stand in Place de la Concorde and look up, is glowing like a heavenly constellation.
Though there's no 'Jingle Bells' ringing out here, the Christmas lights of Paris deux mille neuf have a music connection. This year the lights outside swish department store Printemps were flicked on by Beth Ditto, in Paris for three sold-out Gossip shows at the Bataclan. Meanwhile, illumination duties on the Champs-Elysées were entrusted to Charlotte Gainsbourg. (You see? That family always ends up here somehow.)
It's been some year for Charlotte. Back in May she won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her role in Lars von Triers' typically divisive 'Antichrist'. Now to December, and new album 'IRM' (right) has been released here in France. As you probably know by now, it was produced and co-written by Beck.
We've already featured the title track here - a tuneless, monotonous dirge in the manner of 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. On that evidence, the album promised to be something best avoided.
Well, here's 'IRM' the album. And, damned with faint praise, it's better than 'IRM' the song. Though never as memorable as her previous long-player, the cool and nocturnal '5:55', it's still decent enough.
First single 'Heaven Can Wait' (video below) continues the '66-'67 Beatles vibe with some 'Penny Lane'-style music hall piano chords, while 'Dandelion' sounds like Donovan's 'Mellow Yellow'. It's hard to have strong feelings either way about two such innocuous tracks. Other songs in this vein, like 'Master's Hand' and 'Me And Jane Doe', are less tolerable.
This record is a lot more engaging when Gainsbourg leaves the summer of love behind and heads somewhere wintry. 'Vanities' has a lovely Scandinavian bleakness which makes it the album's standout track. (Perhaps next time she should head to Sweden and make the record with Stina Nordenstam.) The melancholic folk-pop balladry of 'In The End' recalls an iconic French pop star of the late '60s and early '70s - not her father, but Françoise Hardy from the time of her 1971 English-language album 'If You Listen'. Never fear: the symphonic and soulful 'Le Chat Du Café Des Artistes' is a clear nod to Serge.
As for Beck, his presence is discreet but discernable - there are enough of his trademark alt-folk touches, electronic flavourings and surreal free-association lyrics. That said, non-fans of his have nothing (much) to fear from 'IRM'.
So, despite the contaminating effect of its awful title track, 'IRM' is alright. It'll be released in the UK and Ireland in January, when the accompanying press release will no doubt include '"...decent enough... innocuous... alright" (French Letter)'. Oh, and on the album cover she looks like Mrs Sarkozy.
You can listen to snippets from each song on Charlotte Gainsbourg's web site. Here's the interesting video for that first single and duet with her producer, 'Heaven Can Wait':