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Charlotte Gainsbourg
Rest Josh Gray , November 17th, 2017 11:19

The Renaissance Woman finally takes the helm for a glittering reinvention of Ed Banger disco.

When it was announced that Rest would feature contributions from Connan Mockasin, Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Paul McCartney (not to mention production from the magic fingers of Ed Banger’s SebastiAn) my first reaction was, somehow, disappointment. Since her father Serge wrote her 1986 debut (Lemon Incest) most of her music has been created and defined by men around her. 2009’s IRM sounded a lot like Beck making an album using someone else’s voice, while Gainsbourg’s affected English accent drew a little too much attention to Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics on 5:55. So surely, many of us thought, by drafting in such groundbreaking musicians for her fourth release, she would crowd out her own, more fragile identity?

There was no need to be concerned. As suggested by its Horses-aping sleeve, it is Gainsbourg at the reins here. Her voice, coquettish, wistful, haunting or all three at once, dominates the mix. Each collaborator follows her cues and cadences. SebastiAn in particular, known largely for 2011’s hyperkinetic Total, reveals himself to be a master of subtlety and an inspired choice of producer for an album that requires a light hand at the tiller. When he periodically muffles those trademark Ed Banger piano stabs and rubbery basslines on ‘Sylvia Says’ and ‘Deadly Valentine’, it feels as if the listener is transported out of his usual Parisian club environment, straight to the smoking area where Gainsbourg can murmur secret promises in their ear.

But the real evidence that Gainsbourg has seized control of her own music this time round is her writing debut. Having read from other people’s scripts and sung other people’s words for most her career, her decision to pen nearly all of Rest’s lyrics herself is a move that pays ample dividends. Sticking to what makes her feel most comfortable, she sings the majority of verses in French then switches to English for the choruses. Constantly flipping between the two prevents the album from ever feeling fixed in place, a fitting tactic for its medium-hopping, jetsetting, bilingual creator.

Passages from nursery rhymes, wedding vows and Christmas animation theme songs are chopped up and repurposed in unpredictable ways; the linguistic crutches often required when writing in a second language work to her advantage to create something beguiling, unconventional and utterly of her own. It takes the McCartney-penned ‘Songbird In A Cage’ to soil things a little, with Gainsbourg’s laboured enunciation of his clunky lyrics harking back to 5:55’s overly performative style.

Images of flight and heavenly ascension linger on the record’s three most emotionally loaded songs: ‘Lying With You’, ‘Kate’ and ‘Rest’. Here Gainsbourg uses her newfound voice to grapple with death both recent (her sister Kate died in 2013) and latent (I’m sure Serge would be infinitely chuffed that his daughter wrote him a eulogy titled ‘Lying With You’). Perhaps it took the move to New York from her hometown of Paris to elicit a personal album from Charlotte Gainsbourg; as a notoriously shy individual she might have needed a sliver of that anonymity the city offers. That said, given that it boasts a Gainsbourg, one half of Daft Punk and an Ed Banger alumni on its credits, Rest is still the most French record you’re likely to hear all century.