Given that Charlotte Gainsbourg's 2006 album 5:55 sounded very much like the product of producer Nigel Godrich and Air, who more or less led the affair, it's not terribly surprising that her latest, the Beck helmed IRM, sounds a lot like this producer's most recent record, last year's Modern Guilt. However, this is dismissive of Miss Gainsbourg, making her seem like a somewhat talented singer with mere good taste in producers, which is really not the case. There is something to be said for how this and 5:55 still sound as though cut from the same cloth, not to mention the fact that this trait is due to more than just her breathless, almost smoky register. While IRM is unquestionably different from Gainsbourg's sophomore effort, the Beck flavor added merely gives her sound a more fun, upbeat impression rather than simply the feel of a new producer.
As opener Master's Hands progresses, one can't help but marvel at how appealing such a bare boned, percussion and string dominated track can be. Gainsbourg's vocal fills and patterns give the song its charm, and it establishes an atmosphere that is all her own. In fact, Beck's presence isn't really apparent until the title track's quick bass and drums kick in; the instrumental chorus and progressing intensity sounds very much like Modern Guilt, as does the other single, Heaven Can Wait, on which Beck provides vocals as well. Much like the former track, it mirrors Modern Guilt's simultaneously rich and lo-fi sound, with its piano led stomp and gradual introduction of new instruments.
Admittedly, there are a few times when, like on 5:55, the producer is more in charge than Gainsbourg herself. Still, the results sound great; past the fact that Le Chat du Café des Artistes is basically Sea Change with a french chick singing, her gentle voice goes wonderfully with the creeping strings. Another heavy string arrangement on the album belongs to Voyage, a very intricate song where you wouldn't necessarily be able to spot Beck if you didn't know to look for him. The following La Collectionneuse is also distinctly Charlotte Gainsbourg, with a spare piano topped by random other elements and her soothing voice leading us through. The track's closing is unendingly interesting musically, though honestly I can't help but wonder how alluring the vocals would be if I could understand a damn word she was saying. In the End too sounds very akin to 5:55 as well, though with a touch of indie pop; it sounds bound for a quirky indie film's soundtrack.
IRM is wrapped up by another Modern Guilt drenched track (even in title), Looking Glass Blues. The echoing wah guitar gives a nice flair, but distracts from the vocal; here is another of the instances where the production really does take over, and Gainsbourg's voice, while good, just isn't strong enough to assert itself.
Charlotte Gainsbourg's latest is a well crafted alternative informed pop record. With a few exceptions, IRM doesn't really sound too much like Beck, though it's true that it's extremely easy to spot if you're looking for it. As mentioned before, this fits right in with Gainsbourg's last album despite Air's at times gratingly obvious presence and Beck's presence here. The songs are tightly bound orbs of pop with a lot of character and great substance. Though now that I think of it... this could be more to Beck's credit than hers.