Although she has focused most intently on her acting career in the past few decades (including starring in Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep last year), Charlotte Gainsbourg actually released her first solo album, Charlotte Forever, in 1986 at age thirteen. That album was composed of songs written by her father, Serge Gainsbourg, the noted French poet and singer-songwriter who died in 1991. But her second solo album, 5:55, has no shortage of good help, either. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp contributes most of the lyrics, French electro-maestros Air arrange and plays the music, legendary drummer Tony Allen from Fela Kuti’s band is behind the kit, and producer Nigel Godrich mans the boards. Singing in English and French, Gainsbourg delivers a stunning, grandiose pop record, building upon the tradition her father created.
Her quiet, evocative whisper recalls her father’s spoken words, and Air’s arrangements are deeply rooted in the elements of Serge’s landmark recording, 1971’s Histoire de Melody Nelson. Although the lyrical content on 5:55 is nothing like her father’s (who is considered one of the most provocative figures in French pop music), the album contains the clever song craft behind one of pop music’s most accomplished songwriters, Jarvis Cocker.
The album was released in Europe in September of 2006, but it’s still relevant today. (The U.S. version has bonus tracks “Set Yourself on Fire” and “Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping,” two remarkable additions to the original release.) If Gainsbourg continues to surround herself with musicians of the same caliber as those on 5:55, we may not have to wait twenty years for her next album.