Despite it being her fifth studio album, Rest has a sense of being Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s ‘proper’ debut record. From her notorious debut written by her father Serge, up to recent albums like the 5.55 collaboration with Jarvis Cocker and 2009’s Beck-produced IRM, the majority of Gainsbourg’s material has been written for her by men. Rest, however, marks the first time that Gainsbourg has written all the lyrics (apart from one song by a certain Paul McCartney).
Other than the self-penned nature of the lyrics though, Rest sounds exactly how you’d expect a Charlotte Gainsbourg album to sound. It’s almost impossibly French, as Gallic as a disinterested puff on a Gauloise, with production duties being handled on the main by Ed Banger Records cohort SebastiAn. Under his influence, Gainsbourg’s songs are set to dreamy, languid, sometimes quite woozy soundscapes of the type that Air specialise in. The one track that SebastiAn didn’t have a hand in is produced by that other doyen of French electronica, Daft Punk‘s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo.
Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses is ever so creepy and sinister, as befits a song named after a nursery rhyme about children dying during the plague. Like a lot of the songs on the album, the song’s verses are sung in French while Gainsbourg reverts to English for the chorus. Grief is a recurring theme on Rest: Lying With You, which seems to be heavily influenced by John Carpenter‘s film scores and could be a perfect theme song for the next season of Stranger Things, is all about her late father, while Kate addresses the death of her half-sister and references visiting her grave on the disco-tinged Les Oxalis.
The general feel of Rest is laidback and dreamy, but the highlights come when Gainsbourg takes the pace up a notch. The fantastically slinky Sylvia Says is one of the highlights, managing to turn some typically morose Sylvia Plath verses into a disco anthem that Scissor Sisters would be proud of. The McCartney penned number, Songbird In A Cage, is less successful – there’s a lot crammed into it musically, but just sounds a bit too busy, with lyrics that sound like Macca scribbled them on a cigarette packet over the course of 10 minutes (“stars will be shining…you may fly above the city” and so on).
Yet Rest is an album that’s defined by its grief, ultimately. The title track, the only one produced by de Homem-Christo, is a lovely mediation on her sister’s death, with some desperately sad lyrics (“reste avec moi/s’il te plaît/ne me laisse pas/t’oublier” – “stay with me/please/do not let me/forget you”) interspersed with lines from Aled Jones‘ old Christmas classic Walking In The Air. It should be incongruous but it soon feels almost unbearably moving.
Rest may ultimately prove too wispy and too understated to make too much of an impression. There are some songs, such as Deadly Valentine, that just seem to fall a bit flat, and considering that’s there’s only 10 tracks, it seems to be an oddly lengthy record. Yet, like most of Gainsbourg’s work, it oozes class and, at times, it becomes startlingly beautiful.