Releasing a live album in the realm of pop is hardly a new phenomenon. However, this simple reminder that the artist is still active – they’re just biding time until a proper release – is usually reserved for the seasoned touring act. Despite a life in the spotlight, Charlotte Gainsbourg only set her sights roadside after her 2010 release IRM. The shows on that tour were terrific for a new live performer, with no noticeable bumps in tailoring recorded material for a live environment. However, neither were they extraordinary enough to warrant a live album and Stage Whisper, Gainsbourg’s new live album cum EP, does little to refute this.
Before any further airings of dismay, it should be noted that the eight unreleased songs included on Stage Whisper point mostly in the direction of great promise for Gainsbourg’s already impressive solo career. Continuing to work with Beck as a producer has awarded Gainsbourg her own signature sound, an impressive feat when she not only has to live up to her pedigree (as Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birken’s daughter) but also Beck’s own musical innovations. “Terrible Angels”, a song which already saw release on an EP of the same name, sounds like a dirtied up version of Goldfrapp and is earwormy enough that the other unreleased tracks need only be passably listenable.
Fortunately, lulls are kept at bay as second track “Paradisco” kicks in. The song is a bit more steeped in Beck’s latter-day output; think The Information era, but with Francophile inclinations. It is in songs like this when the Gainsbourg/Beck collaboration really becomes a thing of beauty, with the former’s own unique assets fully forming some of the ungelled ideas leftover from the latter’s more recent releases.
A few other collaborators have come on board with Gainsbourg, to mixed results. “Memoir”, previously released as a special single for Record Store Day, features music and lyrics by Conor O’Brien of the Irish band Villagers. Lightly strummed and lightly sung, it caters to Gainsbourg’s tame singing range and mannerisms. “Got to Let Go” is a duet between Gainsbourg and Noah and the Whale’s Charlie Fink, he of the vocal stylings of a man suffering from a constant head cold and a bad case of the doldrums. Despite this, the song has a keyboard line that is sweet without being cloying and Fink’s namby-pamby singing miraculously provides a nice undercurrent for Gainsbourg’s vocals.
The stage part of Stage Whisper, despite offering little in the way of riveting moments, does act as a nice compilation of Gainsbourg’s greatest moments from IRM and its predecessor, 2006’s 5:55. This has as much to do with the fact that Gainsbourg’s setlist contains a nice cross-section of both albums as the songs sounding extremely close to their recorded forms. Also included is a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” which Gainsbourg initially contributed to the soundtrack for I’m Not There, a film which she also appeared in. It’s a nice, lilting rendition, and hearing it recorded live is highly preferable to trawling through the film’s bloated soundtrack.
Seeing as Stage Whisper‘s content is mostly unnecessary, one wishes the album’s other unreleased tracks would have just been included on the Terrible Angels EP. However, record label negotiations and the like make such odd moves excusable. Superfluous release or no, Stage Whisper anticipates more fruitfulness for Gainsbourg’s future and not even a dozen obligatory releases could mar this.