We don’t promise much and we don’t promise often, but here, now, we give you the following: IRM does not contain genital mutilation.
No rusty scissors. No cutting. No sawing. No spurting blood. No ‘Bobbitting’. Which, given the last thing Charlotte Gainsbourg was involved in, can only be a good thing. It does contain Beck (producing, and duetting on the single Heaven Can Wait), but no one cuts his knackers off.
But the context offers something. Judging by her performance in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Gainsbourg is clearly not a mainstream actress, and this isn’t the album of a mainstream artist. Of course, how much of that is because of the music and how much is because of her background becomes harder to discern.
If Gainsbourg had released a record of pissy soft R’n’B staples delivered straight from the SyCo battery songwriter shed, we’d have assumed it was some sort of irony play on the nature of disposable celebrity. In much the same way, if J-Lo released an album of ambient hard-drill-noise-core duets with a choir of blind Nepalese monks, we’d have scoffed, and laughed, and pointed. Ain’t life grand?
But Jenny From The Block certainly never sampled a piece of medical machinery to help make an album. The clue, it seems, is in the title. Or at least the eulc is in the title; who’d have thunk that MRI in French would be IRM? Backwards you say? Those ker-azy Gallic types. Whatever will they think of next.
Even if you didn’t know that the sound in question is the sound of an electromagnetic field causing the protons contained in water molecules in the body to realign, there is a certain hospitalian feel to (the track) IRM. It’s stark and clean, and delivered in a Kraftwerk-like matter-of-fact staccato. The lack of passion given it’s inspiration – Gainsbourg underwent MRI scans after a water-skiing accident, and these found a cerebral haemorrhage, so saved her life – is odd.
It’s not the only track where Gainsbourg creates distance between herself and the material. Which, given the age old maxim of treat-’em-mean, sort of works. If someone actually tries to be all nice and open and forthcoming, nobody cares. Appear distant, cold and offhand, and everybody lines up to hump your leg if it meant you spared us a second glance.
All of which means what could well have been just a Beck solo album with some breathy female vocals is made much more, enlivened by the characters that Gainsbourg embodies during the course of the album. She’s chilling and unsettling on IRM or the similarly robotic Greenwich Mean Time, alluring whenever she’s whispering away in French, or simply sad, beaten and quite possibly doe-eyed on album standout Heaven Can Wait.
IRM is enigmatic, charismatic and mysterious. These are not three characteristics oft levelled at albums these days, and for that fact alone, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s second album deserves all the praise it gets.