An Album of my Year: Charlotte Gainsbourg – ‘Rest’

Charlotte Gainsbourg - Rest

A month or so ago, I had the supreme misfortune to watch The Snowman, the Oslo set crime thriller based on the novel by Jo Nesbo.

I say misfortune because it really didn’t do anything for me. As with many films about psychotic serial killers, I really couldn’t suspend my disbelief that the very well adjusted, highly successful character who turned out to be the one whodunnit, could have that much baggage in the past and be of the killing sort in the present.

Maybe I need to familiarise myself with some textbooks on psychopathic behaviour to be persuaded that such people can exist, but it all just seemed a little forced.

Nevertheless, the film did prompt that inevitable confusion with my daughter who got very excited when I said I was going to see The Snowman. Obviously – being all of four years old, unfamiliar with the recent boom in Nordic Noir fiction – she naturally assumed I was going to watch the Raymond Briggs film of the same name.

All of this is, no doubt, a fascinating insight into the disappointing cinema-going life of yours truly, but doesn’t really have much to do with the albums I have bought and enjoyed over 2017.

Only it turns out, it does. Kind of.

The Snowman (psycho-killer version) features Charlotte Gainsbourg amongst its cast. And in some weird kind of artistic coincidence or contrivance, her latest album (Rest) features the following lyrics on the title track: “We’re walking in the air/we’re floating in the moonlit sky/I’m finding I can fly/so high above with you”, lines you might recognise from The Snowman (non-psycho-killer version).

It’s not the only dalliance with childhood that appears on the album: it opens with ‘Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses’ which uses that nursery rhyme as a chorus and closes with a hidden track where a child (presumably Gainsbourg’s own) attempts to sing ‘The Alphabet Song’ with a rocking out synth backing.

There’s also a reference to The Wizard of Oz thrown (“Somewhere I’ve been dreaming of over the rainbow too”) and schoolgirl prayers (“for what I’m about to receive may the Lord make me truly thankful”) thrown in for good measure in ‘Sylvia Says’.

There may well be other references to and celebrations of childhood, but my schoolboy French isn’t what it used to be and most of the album is delivered more in the native language of her father rather than that of her mother.

Nevertheless, I do like Rest. For all I know Ms Gainsbourg could be reciting a shopping list or outlining instructions on how to change a gearbox in a Citroen 2 CV. It doesn’t really matter. You can just let the lyrics and vocals wash over you as if they are just another instrument.

Her breathy vocals suggest sparse simplicity – a celebration of and yearning for the human basics of freedom and happiness (see the self-explanatory ‘Songbird in a Cage’ for further details).

The music that accompanies these bilingual musings is synth-heavy, at times entering gloomy Blade Runner soundtrack territory, at other times taking more of a post-punk turn with jagged, unrefined edges, at still others there’s an almost Baroque feel to the music with arpeggio patterns filling the landscape of ‘I’m a Lie’.

Lead single, ‘Deadly Valentine’, meanwhile pulsates and races along its own course, a slick, well oiled machine of a tune.

So, by my reckoning, as far as Charlotte Gainsbourg’s creative output goes I make that Music 1: Movies nil.

Wonderful stuff.

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