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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Charlotte Gainsbourg: "5:55"

They say if you're not any good at singing, you should surround yourself with the best musicians you can find. Time after time, this little method of canceling out one's vocal flaws has worked with almost no one noticing. So when I first heard that Charlotte Gainsbourg, a rather accomplished (or at least, talented) actress, was making an album with the help of the guys from Air, Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, and the one and only Jarvis Cocker, my first thought was that I was in for another lesson in "How Not to Sing." But I was terribly mistaken. As it turns out, Charlotte Gainsbourg is extremely talented. And wouldn't you know it? "5:55" is beautiful!

While not possessing the most powerful voice ever captured on an album, Gainsbourg does a brilliant job of blending her vocals in with Dunckel and Godin's Air-ish compositions. She accomplishes this by half-whispering most of her lyrics, but it sounds absolutely perfect. On the title track, "5:55," she sings, "Soon the morning will arrive. Can I begin another day whilst this old day is still alive, refusing to be put away," so beautifully that it feels like she's singing only for you. This brilliant lyric is penned by Cocker, as he and Hannon share most the songwriting duties on the album.

"The Operation" is perhaps the standout track on the album. It utilizes a steady electronic drum beat to accompany a great piano composition and bass line. The highlight of the song comes about half way through when the music drops out to leave Charlotte whispering, "Our love goes under the knife. Nothing is taboo here on the cutting edge of science..." It is yet another fantastic song.

'The Songs that We Sing" is the first time the album crosses into near-pop territory (later revisited in "Everything I Cannot See"). The music itself feels like it could've been ripped right off of one of Neil Hannon's albums. The song begins with an upbeat piano line and a xylophone syncopating along with it. Here, Gainsbourg asks the question, "And the songs that we sing, do they mean anything to the people we're singing them to?" over well-composed chord progression. "Beauty Mark" is a lesson in minimalism. The percussion on the song is largely forgotten in favor of creating the kind of lush soundscapes that have defined Air's sound for so many years. In what is extremely reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic short story, "The Birthmark," Gainsbourg sings, "This little death, this mark of sin, forever painted on my skin" over swells of strings.

The album is filled with examples of how my initial hypothesis was wrong. In fact, every song on this album is so gorgeous that it's hard to believe that Gainsbourg hasn't set aside her acting career in favor of this pursuit. Indeed, she is an unbelievably talented individual, and "5:55" is evidence of that. Of course, one could make the argument that without the talents of her constituents the album would not be near as good. My response is, who cares? "5:55" is amazing from the time you press play to when the final second ticks off. That's quite an achievement, and one that should not go unnoticed.

Recommended for fans of Air, Zero 7, and anyone who wants to define "beauty" more accurately.

Key Tracks:
1. "5:55"
2. "AF607105"
3. "The Operation"
4. "The Songs that We Sing"
5. "Little Monsters"

9 out of 10 Stars

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that 5:55 is an incredible piece of music.