Three years ago, Charlotte Gainsbourg made her stateside debut with 5:55, a collection of cottony, lovesick pop tunes that certainly looked good on paper. The daughter of French pop icons Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, working with ex-Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and neo-French pop duo Air? Sold! And yet, the whole thing floated in and out of your head without leaving any footprint—the hipster equivalent of a Norah Jones CD.
For follow-up IRM, Gainsbourg picked Beck as her chief associate, and the combination seems to have yanked both out of their comfort zones, with inspired results. If 5:55 sounded like Charlotte whispering her breathy intonations over secondhand Air tracks, IRM double-times as Beck’s most original-sounding work since 1996’s Odelay. Moments like “Voyage” and “Le Chat du Café des Artistes” are so lush and epic, you’d think they were recorded in Panavision.
Gainsbourg’s kittenish coo even acquires a sinister tone on the title track, a whirling dirge of a tune with deadpan lyrics about getting a brain scan. She knows a bit about that, having overcome a 2007 skiing accident—and subsequent brain hemorrhage—en route to becoming an artist worthy of her familial credentials.