- - Monday, December 12, 2011

Stage Whispers

Charlotte Gainsbourg



You can take the girl out of the art house, but you can’t take the art house out of the girl.

Hip, intellectual and often obtuse, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s music has always reflected her film career. Both are created with a narrow audience in mind, and they bend the popular tricks of the trade - in this case, the electronic Euro-pop that has influenced everyone from Robyn to Lady Gaga - to create something only slightly resemblant of the mainstream. In Miss Gainsbourg’s hands, a pop song becomes an arty mix of melody and atmosphere.

Last year, “IRM” established Miss Gainsbourg as a genuine musician, not another actress looking to kill time between shoots. “Stage Whisper” literally picks up where that critically acclaimed album left off, packaging a handful of unreleased recordings from the “IRM” sessions with several live performances. It’s essentially a reprise, an opportunity for Miss Gainsbourg to continue basking in the “IRM” afterglow, but the material is strong enough to warrant this sort of stopgap recording.

The studio tracks are produced by Beck, who frames Miss Gainsbourg’s cooly detached vocals like a movie director. He makes her the obvious star, keeping her melodies at the forefront of every shot, but he pays just as must attention to the background, filling the empty space with snatches of twinkling keyboard, harp and electronic percussion. “White Telephone” swoons with a lush orchestral arrangement, and “Terrible Angles” pulses like a dance anthem, its nightclub-worthy tempo driven forward by a futuristic synthesizer.

“Stage Whisper” dedicates more time to Miss Gainsbourg’s live show, which is documented on the double-album’s second disc. She performs songs from “IRM” and “5:55,” relying on a backup band to bulk up some of her sparser material with rock ‘n’ roll energy. The title track from “IRM” is given an energetic makeover, but several of the songs - including a demure, whispery version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” that never quite leaves the ground - sound better in their original versions.

Miss Gainsbourg has been recording music since 1984, when she sang along with her father, Serge Gainsbourg, on the controversial duet “Lemon Incest.” Now, nearly three decades later, she’s free of her dad’s shadow and luminous in her own right, thanks to a danceable pop sound that peaked on “IRM” and plateaus here.

Back to Love

Anthony Hamilton



With a voice that falls somewhere between the old-school croon of 1970s soul artists and the hip swagger of modern R&B singers, Anthony Hamilton has sailed beneath the mainstream for 10 years, surfacing with the occasional hit single but rarely gathering the sort of acclaim he deserves.

“Back to Love” is the North Carolinian’s ultimate bid for stardom. The music is the same as it’s always been, with a handful of upbeat, funky songs bumping shoulders with the gospel-tinged slow jams that have always been Mr. Hamilton’s bread and butter. The polished-up production and sharp hooks are new additions, though, as is the presence of co-producer Babyface, who brings his usual hit-making prowess to tracks like “Woo” and “Pray for Me.” Like Southern humidity, the ballads are thick and slow-moving, and Mr. Hamilton cuts his way through each of them with a honeyed voice.

Mr. Hamilton saves his best performances for the faster tunes. He shines on “Mad,” a slinky Southern gem laced with stomp-clamp percussion and bluesy harmonica, and sings alongside Keri Hilson on “Never Let Go,” a pop duet that might be the most commercial thing he’s ever done.

Mr. Hamilton will always skew closer to Teddy Pendergrass than, say, Usher, but “Back to Love” bridges the gap between his vintage influences and 21st century contemporaries. This is retro-soul music for the modern age, performed by a 40-year-old who, despite being twice as old as some of today’s leading artists, sounds hipper than ever before.

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