The fifth album by the French actress and singer marks her debut as a lyricist
Album review: Charlotte Gainsbourg's majestic Rest celebrates love and death
Charlotte Gainsbourg shines when dealing with darkness. Whether as an actress in the 2011 thriller Melancholia, or her work as a music artist whose songs often peer at the underside of human existence.
The French star’s bilingual album, which marks her debut as a lyricist, is her most affecting yet, as it surveys her own grief and emotional wounds. Death pervades all of Rest – the suicide of her half sister Kate Berry in 2013 and the passing away of her father hover above nearly all the songs, as she attempts to find meaning in loss.
Remarkably, despite the subject matter, Rest doesn’t sound maudlin at all. The main reason is the album’s chief collaborator, the French house music producer SebastiAn, who pairs Gainsbourg’s wispy vocals with gripping synth grooves, jittering beats and orchestral swells.
In Ring-A-Ring O’ Roses, which boasts a slinky piano riff that resembles a demented carousel theme, she takes us to the playground as she recalls an innocence lost: “A first call, it’s original/ A first kiss, it’s purely motherly/ A first step. It’s a sad effort”. There is nothing metaphoric about the ghostly Lying with You. SebastiAn builds a cathedral of synths as Gainsbourg transports us back where as a 19-year-old she stood vigil at her deceased father’s bedside. The chorus is absolutely haunting; the coldness of her voice conveys the disembodiment of shock as she coolly states: “My feet are hovering above ground, ready to follow / My mouth is whispering in raptures, celebrating you.”
The much needed catharsis arrives in Sylvia Says, a deliciously dark disco stomp recalling the best of Goldfrapp. The lyrics reference the late American poet Sylvia Plath's Mad Girl’s Love Song, a piece about finding comfort in a dream world. The listener achieves just that with Gainsbourg’s brave and stately Rest.