Charlotte Gainsbourg is a quiet rock star. Born and raised in Paris to singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and actress Jane Birkin, she made her musical debut at just 12 years old on her father’s song “Lemon Incest,” and released an album with him three years later.
Since then, Gainsbourg has only released three albums, and on each one she has struggled to find the right way to describe her experiences and feelings through her music. But on her fifth studio album Rest, Gainsbourg finally told the world exactly how she felt.
Seven years in the making, the album is relatively short, with only 11 tracks totaling 50 minutes in length. The album is mostly sung in French, but even those who do not understand the language can still feel the heartache and poignancy the album embodies. Rest brings together an all-star group of producers and songwriters, including legendary singer-songwriters Paul McCartney and Dev Hynes, best known as Blood Orange. But the album was mostly produced by French electronica producer SebastiAn. Rest is also the first album that features Gainsbourg’s own lyrics — and it shows.
The album is emotional. Each lyric is a raw insight into the mind of a woman who is known to be notoriously shy and prone to bottling up painful heartaches. Gainsbourg’s words deal with alcoholism and are sung with the sadness, anger and grief that often accompany stories of addiction. It is Gainsbourg trying to grapple with her father’s death years ago, the recent death of her sister and learning how to move on from darkness. In short, it sounds as if the electronic taste of St. Vincent’s last album Masseduction and the melancholic sound of Lana Del Rey came together to break listeners’ hearts.
The stand out track on this album is “Kate.” It was inspired by Gainsbourg’s late half-sister, the photographer Kate Barry, who died in Paris in 2013. Her death was ruled a suicide. Devastated, Gainsbourg fled Paris. The pain the city brought her after her sister’s death was one she could no longer bear, so she packed her things and moved to New York City. “Kate” is sung entirely in French and shows Gainsbourg at her best. The lyrics are clever, witty and a despairing reflection on the heartbreak of losing her sister.
“Rest,” sung in both French and English, is the most poetic song on the album. In French, she says, “Prend-moi la main, s’il te plaît,” which translates to, “Take my hand, please.” Then in English she whispers, “We’re walking in the air / We’re floating in the moonlit sky.” The song is a soft, gentle lullaby that romantically embraces listeners.
On “I’m a Lie,” her voice sounds exactly like her mother, Jane Birkin, when she sang in the song, “Je t‘aime moi non plus,” with her father. As the album continues, the tone becomes darker. Her whispers become faint, yet harsher at the same time. The cheerful beats stop dropping as frequently as they used to and listeners are left alone with only Gainsbourg and her vocals.
“Les Oxtails” ends with a clip of presumably a baby Gainsbourg singing a song to the tune of the children’s alphabet song. For a long moment, there is silence before an electronic beat drops over baby Gainsbourg’s voice, a tribute to the innocence of childhood — a time where, for once, things used to be OK.
The melodies produced in the album are familiar to the listener. For instance, “Deadly Valentine,” which was initially released as a single, sounds exactly as if Selena Gomez took over a throwaway track from The Weeknd’s last album.
When asked about the song, Gainsbourg told Spin, “The song mixes wedding vows with an offbeat tone. I wanted to express the idea of a lifetime engagement: a couple running to church, from childhood to old age, a lifetime path.”
Still, there is something very genuine and personal about each beat and melody Gainsbourg sings over. Rest is not perfect, nor is it supposed to be. In this personal album, Gainsbourg has finally found a niche for herself. She has found an artistic style that balances the worlds both inside and outside of her, and was able to use the music to effectively release the darkness that has been inside of her for so long. This is Gainsbourg’s best album to date — it’s the one where she finally found her voice and proclaimed it, though quietly, to the rest of the world.