Album Reviews

Lou Doillon – Places

(Universal) UK release date: 22 April 2013

lou-doillon It’s likely that there may well be a degree of scepticism directed at Lou Doillon’s debut album. The daughter of Jane Birkin (and, therefore, half-sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg), Doillon has toyed in modelling, acting and the fashion world, becoming the face of Givenchy and designing a range of clothing for Lee Cooper. Yet the impression persists in France that’s she’s just ‘famous for being famous’.

So, Places should go some way to determining whether Doillon has talent or whether she’s just a European version of a minor Kardashian. Thankfully, the initial signs are good: Places is a collection of gorgeously yearning songs, delivered by Doillon with an understated drawl. Ironically enough, it may well fare best outside of her native country, where her name is less well-known and the music more accessible (being written and sung completely in English).

Doillon’s voice is the most pleasant surprise. Combining the cool drawl of Lana Del Rey with the yearning melancholy of Cat Power, she may not be as technically accomplished as compatriots like Camille, but her vocals perfectly suit the downbeat atmosphere of Places. Opening track ICU makes for the perfect scene-setter, a lovelorn ballad about seeing an old lover around town, with Doillon injecting just the right note of world-weary ennui into lines like “I wake up some mornings, thank God not as often as I used to, slow and heavy from dreams with you”.

French pop icon Etienne Daho (who has also worked with Charlotte Gainsbourg) proves to be the perfect partner for Doillon, moving away from his usual synth-driven sound to create a more organic feel – the strident Defiant sounds like something that Leslie Feist would be more than happy to release as a single, and the irresistible country strut of Make A Sound is one of the few times that the album’s tempo raises above a mild trot.

The laidback atmosphere is about the only minus point – while much of Places sounds gorgeous, it’s so languid that sometimes you may feel yourself nodding off: the impossibly wispy Hushaby and One Day After Another being just two examples. It’s frustrating, because on songs like Devil And Angel and especially the feisty (no pun intended) Questions And Answers, there’s a pleasing touch of sass, while on the half-spoken title track – which starts stately and calm before stepping up into a thrillingly chaotic gear – Doillon sounds utterly compelling.

While some of Places doesn’t quite come off, much of it works beautifully, and she imbues enough of her own personality into proceedings so that the constant Gainsbourg/Birkin shadow doesn’t engulf the album completely. For someone who seems, so far at least, to have stumbled from one career path to the next, it turns out that her most obvious route to stardom could well be the most successful one.

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