Album Review — 23 January 2012

By Liz Belilovskaya

Charlotte Gainsbourg is a well known European actress and musician whose third, two-part album Stage Whisper consists of eight studio tracks and eleven live-performance recordings. While most of Charlotte’s success comes from the film industry, she is no newcomer to the music scene. Her first record debuted when she was just 14 years old and almost 20 years later, she released another two well-received albums.Her vocals are not loud or aggressive but a steady harmonic chime, laced with definitive beats and experimental electronic music calmly and creatively layered over the exerted inner peace of Charlotte’s muse.

Her signature voice and lively beats channel early Goldfrapp on the quick and tempo-driven “Terrible Angels.” The pace is kept well into “Paradisco” but the piano enhanced vocals change it to something a tad more somber. The melody transitions less between notes although it remains reasonably fast. Think of good, easy going tracks perfect for a sophisticated dance party.

“All the Rain” changes the tone. It’s less electronic with the incorporation of natural sound effects providing a nice break from the synth-heavy influences used throughout. The track features more of the familiar, concrete percussion heard in the first two songs starting half-way through the track. The vocals seem to echo as she sings “All the rain (2x), cover me now”. While it’s a nice song, it is not great.

The first appearance of acoustic guitar, piano, classic strings and choir occur in “White Telephone” adding a romantic flare to Charlottes seductively sad vocals. In “Anna”, the guitar lingers into the track making it nice and melodic, clearly “less” electric. The usually hard beats get reduced to light and pleasant percussion. “Anna, all I see is your face” she sings.

“Go To Let Go” features an 80’s inspired beat and much more pronounced voice that finally comes from Gainsbourg’s diaphragm and not her throat. Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale accompanies her on it making the track stand out. They are smooth together and the peacefulness of the track is a nice addition to the album breaking up what otherwise would be a monotonous vocal experience.

“Out of Touch” and “Memoir” polish off the studio part of the album. They are earthier and less synth than the first songs. “Out of Touch” is very gentle as if the singer is softly talking over easy drums. The latter is more of a folklore style song that aims to tell a tale, “I gave myself to strangers the way I gave myself to you.”

The second part of the album is solely live performances. First comes “IRM” featuring familiar hard beats, synth heavy keys and incorporated clapping serving as supplemental percussion. It sounds similar to the Brazilian Girls in their later work. The vocals are not melodic but seem almost spoken over the music.

“Set Yourself on Fire” features electric guitars and piano that sounds like a homage to old school bands such as The Cars or DEVO. Charlotte’s voice is also more playful here, a nice change from her casual whispers. “Jamais” follows with a slow, piano-inspired, ethereal and more acoustic feel, but lacks excitement.
Stage Whisper continues with “Heaven Can Wait” and “In the End,” both concerned with death. The first has a sweet melody and strong vocals that are by far more definitive than in “Jamais.” The other is softer, slower and caressing; making you want to curl up with a loved one and watch a romantic chick flick…but I might be projecting here.

“Af607105” is completely different and features new subject matter; flying. The piano, drums, electric guitar, and the detached lyrics make me think of Duty Free but the track has a unique appeal. “Just Like a Woman” is a story of a young girl who loves like an adult but suffers her personal disappointments much like a child would. It’s pretty damn sad.

The faster drums and defined tempo on “The Operation” seems similar to actual Operation (the game); only steady hands get to play. “The Song That We Sing” has a more worldly feel by encompassing subtle traces of music from vast cultures. It’s fairly interesting, perhaps the harmonica is responsible for that.

Finally “Voyage” and “Trick Pony” roll around. The first is darker, channeling a bit of Joy Division only the vocals are kept smooth throughout. On the other hand, “The Trick Pony” sounds Joan Jett. The music is more experimental but like electronica, rather it’s more pop-punk. Either way, both are good.

I understand that stage whispering is implied in the record title but I hardly expected to hear that much of it. Stage Whisper would be pleasant if only Charlotte changed up her singing style more than she does; diversity is more than necessary on a two-part record. Artistically she has what it takes, but needs to learn to be more of a risk taker.

black-thumbs-upblack-thumbs-upblack-thumbshalf 2.75 Out of 5

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