Review by Jason Leigh
It has been six years since Charlotte Gainsbourg’s last album, Stage Whisper, comprising live tracks and leftovers from IRM, Beck’s biographical take on her experience following a cerebral haemorrhage. Unlike previous albums she has taken reign lyrically, mostly co-writing the album with producer Sebastian, the exceptions being Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo on the title track and Paul McCartney’s solely written contribution “Songbird in a Cage”. Rest is a concept album of sorts or at least thematic as a whole addressing familial relationships and reconciling with the deaths of her father Serge Gainsbourg and more recently her half-sister Kate Barry.
Charlotte has drawn from nursery rhyme (“Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses”), traditional wedding vows (“Deadly Valentine”) and Sylvia Plath is credited on “Sylvia Says” for the use of a refrain from her poem “Mad Girl’s Love Song”. Charlotte doesn’t feel the need to remain in either English or French, even within a song. Most songs are bilingual to varying degrees, with “Kate”, “Dans Vos Airs” and “Les Crocodiles” sung in French entirely and although “Deadly Valentine” is in English, it is not immediately apparent due to Charlotte’s peculiar phrasing.
Regarding contemporary as well as historical Gallic musical touchstones, more often than not there will be reference to and inevitable comparisons made. Air’s Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel are notable for having written, with Jarvis Cocker, Charlotte’s album 5:55, while half of Daft Punk has contributed to Rest and as far back as age 13 she sang with her father on the controversial “Lemon Incest” prior to him writing her first album Charlotte for Ever. In fact Serge Gainsbourg although long departed is a significant influence musically and thematically on Rest.
On opening song “Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses” Charlotte borrows and recites the aforementioned familiar nursery rhyme about the Black Plague over a Jean Michel Jarre soundscape. “Lying with You” sounds like Vangelis and is perhaps lyrically an imagined metaphorical sequel to “Lemon Incest”. The title track “Rest” at first appears simple and incomplete but upon repeated listening evolves into something transcendentally hypnotic. “I’m A Lie” is a musical what if John Barry and Serge Gainsbourg had actually collaborated, unintentionally paralleling the historical romantic interests of Charlotte’s mother Jane Birkin. Paul McCartney contributes guitar, piano and drums to “Songbird in a Cage” which sounds like it comes from the time immediately post punk leading into new romantic and is akin to McCartney’s own “Temporary Secretary” although more polished in execution. Sebastian’s dramatic musical accompaniment on “Dans Vos Airs” would be a good recommendation for soundtrack work if he hadn’t already done film music previously. The strings on penultimate track “Les Crocodiles” could almost be sampled from Histoire de Melody Nelson. Charlotte channels her father’s spoken word style during “Les Oxalis”, and the song seems like an overall tribute with a funky drummer beat by Poni Hoax’s Vincent Taegar. Lyrically it is a farewell to the topics and themes of the album. There is an unlisted addendum in which a conversation spoken in French between Charlotte and a child leads into the child reciting the alphabet song, possibly a thematic reprise of the use of childhood rhyme on the opening song. During the closing English portion of “Les Oxalis”, Charlotte sings “Take one is over / … / Over and out”. With this stage of grieving complete, Charlotte is taking over authorship of her work such that it will be interesting to see where it leads.