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Pitchfork review of IRM


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#1 Aerobic Victim

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:43 AM

Pitchfork rates IRM 8.4 but at the same time finds some real harsh words for Beck's work of the last years:

"Before summer 2007, Charlotte Gainsbourg was best known as the daughter of gallic godhead Serge Gainsbourg, a curiously magnetic actress with a diverse CV (romantic comedies, dark dramas, period pieces), and a part-time singer still working in the shadow of a mildly pedophilic 1984 duet recorded with her father called "Lemon Incest". Then Charlotte Gainsbourg nearly died. Weeks after a minor water skiing accident, she went to the doctor with headaches only to learn her hemorrhaged head was filled with blood.

After summer 2007 (and successful brain surgery), the actress-singer filmed three intense movies including Lars von Trier's frightful Antichrist, in which she plays a grieving mother who wanders around an isolated cabin without pants on before mutilating her genitals. She also recorded IRM, a decidedly more palatable post-trauma piece. Written, arranged, produced, and largely played by Beck, the collaborative album marks Gainsbourg's transition from pop scion to pop artiste.

Gainsbourg's mother, singer and actress Jane Birkin, often played muse for Serge, whether she was cover star of 1971's Histoire de Melody Nelson or making orgasmic sounds on the hit duet "Je t'aime...moi non plus". And while IRM is marked by Beck's singular sonic accoutrements, it often plays as if Charlotte is using him for inspiration. The muse-y confusion is both sensible-- Beck sampled Serge's "Melody Nelson" on Sea Change-- and oddly fated.

Beck's always had a cocked eye on death (remember that roaming pine box in the "Loser" video?) and his last three albums have focused on the ultimate end with unwavering abstract paranoia. If he's not sending up "Profanity Prayers" on Modern Guilt, he's seeing "Strange Apparitions" on The Information; as far as I know Beck did not have a near-death experience sometime around 2003, but he's been obsessed with poking at his forsaken soul ever since. Flip to Charlotte-- who became so haunted by her death scare that she underwent several MRIs (or IRMs, as the French call them) even after fully recovering-- and you've got a meeting of almost-40-year-old minds bent on exploring all the fears, mysteries, and anxieties that make death breathe. There's something to Gainsbourg's skeleton-like visage on the album's cover.

"Heaven can wait and hell's too far to go/ Somewhere between what you need and what you know," sing the pair on duet "Heaven Can Wait". The purgatory set up in those words informs the album's lyrics and mood, which live up to Beck's more ominous and serious guise. Whereas it can sometimes sound like Beck's already halfway into his crypt on his own songs, Gainsbourg is defiant, warm, and stoic in the face of flatlines. What could be depressing turns into a whimsical shrug on "In the End"-- "Who's to say it's all for the best in the end?" hums Gainsbourg, comfortable in the unknowing. And on "Master's Hands", she's anything but helpless in the face of an Almighty Creator as she demands, "Breathe out, come alive/ Give me a reason to feel." She's in control, even when she's not.

There's nothing close to a love song here, a severe turnaround from Gainsbourg's Air-produced, Jarvis Cocker-written 2006 LP 5:55, which was full of sordid, shrouded, and oddly lifeless tales of crumbling hearts. But the thematic switch goes lengths to give Gainsbourg her own identity apart from her amorous lineage. The closest thing to a Valentine's Day ode is found on the incubated folk tune "Me and Jane Doe". "If I had my way I'd cross the desert to the sea/ Learn to speak in tongues, something that makes sense to you and to me," she sings, longingly.

Another reason to believe IRM is more than a highly accomplished puppet job: It's actually better than any album Beck himself has released in the last seven years. The nods to psych rock, junkyard blues, half-rap cadences, and ghostly ballads won't shock anyone generally familiar with Beck's oeuvre, but Gainsbourg's versatile and vulnerable vocals add a depth missing from much of her songwriter's post-Sea Change work.

She makes the most of her limited vocal abilities by switching deliveries to match her surroundings. The barely there orchestral stunner "Vanities" (arranged by Beck's dad David Campbell) gets a hushed quiver, the stream-of-consciousness brain-scan rock of "IRM" gets a zen rap, and, on the half-French closer "La Collectionneuse", she whispers close to your ear like a sultry grim reaper. The subject matter subverts her inherent sensuousness, but this is still Charlotte Gainsbourg singing-- at times, she can't help sounding like the cooing French goddess her father helped popularize. It's dead sexy, reborn."

Ryan Dombal, January 28, 2010


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#2 Candy with Strangers

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 08:04 AM

Beck's always had a cocked eye on death (remember that roaming pine box in the "Loser" video?) and his last three albums have focused on the ultimate end with unwavering abstract paranoia. If he's not sending up "Profanity Prayers" on Modern Guilt, he's seeing "Strange Apparitions" on The Information; as far as I know Beck did not have a near-death experience sometime around 2003, but he's been obsessed with poking at his forsaken soul ever since.

Interesting that he pins it to 2003, since Beck didn't release anything that year, or in 2004, either.
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#3 Lazer Vizaginal Rejuvenation

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 09:50 AM

abstract position? I think it's a position a lot of reviewers have taken with Beck's last few efforts. I'm not saying that I agree with it, I am just saying it's not exclusive to Pitchfork or Ryan Dombal.
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#4 Aerobic Victim

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 10:45 AM

Interesting that he pins it to 2003, since Beck didn't release anything that year, or in 2004, either.


My guess is he wrote the review to IRM in late 2009, when it has been released over here in Europe. This would include Sea Change into Dombal's look back on the last 7 year period of Beck's work.

Nevertheless, to rate IRM as being "better than any album Beck himself has released in the last seven years" (which would include Sea Change, Guero, The Information and Modern Guilt) to me is a significant sign of a complete lack of interest in the artist Beck and the development of his musical career as well as complete ignorance.
Major fail, Mr. Dumbass, uh, Dombal! :ThumbDown:


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#5 Candy with Strangers

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 11:06 AM

Interesting that he pins it to 2003, since Beck didn't release anything that year, or in 2004, either.


My guess is he wrote the review to IRM in late 2009, when it has been released over here in Europe. This would include Sea Change into Dombal's look back on the last 7 year period of Beck's work.

I was referring to this line, though: "as far as I know Beck did not have a near-death experience sometime around 2003, but he's been obsessed with poking at his forsaken soul ever since." Which made me think he was excluding Sea Change from his speculation. But maybe he just forgot when it was released. :huh:
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#6 Iro

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 01:16 PM

I felt he was excluding Sea Change--suggesting it was his last great effort:
"but Gainsbourg's versatile and vulnerable vocals add a depth missing from much of her songwriter's post-Sea Change work."

-edit-
Although I didn't agree with the entire review, I don't see how it's anything abstract; there's clarity in it, really, aside from the already-noted confusion!

#7 Iro

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 07:48 PM

I'm not seeing that here.

#8 sasquatch was eating a burrito

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Posted 28 January 2010 - 08:13 PM

pitchfork sucks
not surprising
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#9 Broken Record

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 01:54 AM

Really?

So ultimately IRM is better than anything Beck's done lately simply because of Charlotte's vocals?


Oh Pitchfork... :rolleyes:
:sign0186:
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#10 Candy with Strangers

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 06:42 AM

Really?

So ultimately IRM is better than anything Beck's done lately simply because of Charlotte's vocals?

He does seem to be saying that, doesn't he? :huh:
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#11 jackinthebox

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 08:21 AM

Interesting that he pins it to 2003, since Beck didn't release anything that year, or in 2004, either.


My guess is he wrote the review to IRM in late 2009, when it has been released over here in Europe. This would include Sea Change into Dombal's look back on the last 7 year period of Beck's work.

I was referring to this line, though: "as far as I know Beck did not have a near-death experience sometime around 2003, but he's been obsessed with poking at his forsaken soul ever since." Which made me think he was excluding Sea Change from his speculation. But maybe he just forgot when it was released. :huh:

what i find interesting about this is the fact that death and the afterlife has been a theme that has permeated beck's music from the beginning. its one of a few recurring themes. and the reviewer doesnt notice this. for example, you would think he would pick up on it in Devil's Haircut (see below), the lead track and a single from his Grammy award winning, double platinum album Odelay. to say his ruminations on death, etc. sprang up in 2003 is to ignore the rest of his discography, including such salient singles as Loser ("i'm a loser baby, so why dont you kill me"). and i know that most general music fans are probably not that aware of One Foot in the Grave, but after its re-release, surely this reviewer would have picked up on the cover of Skip James' He's A Mighty Good Leader, I Have Seen the Land Beyond, Sweet Satan, and Close to God. It seems that he just took a quick scan of song titles for the article, but it just seems that he got lazy and didn't bother to look back at anything else. like the reviewer has a mental break-down of Beck as follows: 90's=crazy awesome music....that dude couldnt have been thinking about death; sea change=damn, some girl broke his heart; 2003 and beyond=shit, i am going to die. kind of interesting to me.



"Something's wrong 'cause my mind is fading
And everywhere I look there's a dead end waiting
Temperatures dropping at the rotten oasis
Stealing kisses from the leperous faces

Heads are hanging from the garbage man trees
Mouthwash, jukebox, gasoline
Pistols are pointing at a poor man's pockets
Smilin' eyes whippin' out of their sockets "
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#12 Candy with Strangers

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 10:03 AM

what i find interesting about this is the fact that death and the afterlife has been a theme that has permeated beck's music from the beginning. its one of a few recurring themes.

Good point. I think maybe the guy is being influenced not just by the lyrics but by the overall sound of the songs (and possibly also Beck's affect during shows). There is a more somber tone. And even in the lyrics, I think that on his last three albums Beck has leaned pretty heavily on the difficulties of living.

But the writer does seem to be looking at it in an oversimplified, black-and-white way.
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#13 mellow goldfish

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 11:38 AM

What are 'Junkyard Blues'? Did the reviewer just make that one up?

#14 Iro

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Posted 29 January 2010 - 04:06 PM

what i find interesting about this is the fact that death and the afterlife has been a theme that has permeated beck's music from the beginning. its one of a few recurring themes. and the reviewer doesnt notice this.

I'd like to reiterate that I don't concur with the whole review, but I kinda feel like I'm reading a different article; the reviewer states just that--that the theme of death has been there since he started: "Beck's always had a cocked eye on death (remember that roaming pine box in the "Loser" video?)". He does go on to suggest that there is a stronger focus on Beck's own "ultimate end", but would any of us disagree with that? Sure, Odelay has "Devils Haircut", but it also has "Where it's At", as opposed to The Information--whose lyrical content, even in the more sonically uplifting songs, is littered with decay (this isn't a complaint on my part; I enjoy it, actually).

#15 helloimaperson

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 02:50 PM

Really?

So ultimately IRM is better than anything Beck's done lately simply because of Charlotte's vocals?

He does seem to be saying that, doesn't he? :huh:


I agree with what he is saying about charlottes voice making it better. In my opinion, I loved the way beck sang on every record up until Guero. I think Beck has a better voice than Charlotte, but I've never liked his delivery from Guero onwards, apart from the occasional song. I still think Beck writes amazing songs but I think delivery can make or break a song.

#16 kanda

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 07:12 PM

I don't think they are inferring her voice makes it better than his past... For example, when beck writes songs for others, he sings the parts, and then has the singer learn the parts he wrote and then has their voice recorded and replaces his vocals. What the writer means is that if this album was beck singing on it ( then it would be considered a "beck album" to the public....) that it would be an evolution and elaboration, an instance of musical "growing" from his past works. I think Charlotte is just an appendage- someone who steped in and sings what he originally wrote.

The pitchfork album I think asserts that there is a certain level of color ( i.e a return to junkyard blues) being brought back into his work which has been lacking since guero. Maybe this means the use of harmonica, or whatever.. but I think thats what they are saying for the most part..

I think Pitchfork is saying that its an improvement.. I don't see it as an insult at all... just the use of charlotte in the lead just complicates the situation is all.


Although, there is a problem from this whole thing... I do sort of disrespect beck for playing into the cash machine that Charlotte represents. In this instance she is working the same program someone like Britney spears is... (but in a different style...) The principle is the same- get on stage and sing songs someone else wrote for you. Look good and we will market you and you will make money. Beck is part of this marketing. They tie it in with the release of her film. Doesn't mean that any creativity is essentially coming from/within her. She is essentially acting as a cardboard cutout, which I find horribly ironic, seeing that beck poses as a cardboard cut out in her photoshoots for the album. Marketing is all very psychological...

But the machine she is a part of is marketing to the "indie/alterna" crowd... which by the way is a new "target" group in marketing terms..

The whole marketing thing is complicated because most 'indie' labels are in actuality owned by major labels. Thats why people feel guilty for listening to bands like vampire weekend... They have tons of major label behind them.. but its hidden behind the facade of "independent". It is really a pity how fragmented and confused the whole entertainment industry has become. But some people hopefully will see through it...


I think thats why beck's last album was called "modern guilt"- he knows he has become a part of the corporate machine that he so hated when he was first starting out and "pure". The fact that beck has had to struggle with his identity as being a brand seems to be part of the 'guilt' he is feeling. Perhaps this has alot to do with his notion of death- an identity/purity death.


anyways, thats just my interpretation...

#17 helloimaperson

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 09:36 PM

I don't think they are inferring her voice makes it better than his past... For example, when beck writes songs for others, he sings the parts, and then has the singer learn the parts he wrote and then has their voice recorded and replaces his vocals. What the writer means is that if this album was beck singing on it ( then it would be considered a "beck album" to the public....) that it would be an evolution and elaboration, an instance of musical "growing" from his past works. I think Charlotte is just an appendage- someone who steped in and sings what he originally wrote.


I think they are saying that Becks songwriting is just as good as it always has been, but Charlottes vocals give it an edge, because Becks vocals went a bit rubbish after sea change

Pitchfork rates IRM 8.4 but at the same time finds some real harsh words for Beck's work of the last years:

Another reason to believe IRM is more than a highly accomplished puppet job: It's actually better than any album Beck himself has released in the last seven years. The nods to psych rock, junkyard blues, half-rap cadences, and ghostly ballads won't shock anyone generally familiar with Beck's oeuvre, but Gainsbourg's versatile and vulnerable vocals add a depth missing from much of her songwriter's post-Sea Change work.



#18 deadweight swe

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Posted 20 March 2010 - 03:47 PM

I don't think beck's vocals is anything close to being rubbish. He did some great singing on Modern guilt. And I can't really imagine that he would chose to collaborate with an artist to be part of the mainstream/commercial movement. That's just not Beck. Even though Charlotte has some kind of actress/singing career going, she's got a great heritage when it comes to her father. That must have been a part of what is interesting to collaborate with her. And she's got a great voice.
I think IRM is a great album and most of the songs are really top class writing by beck. And I'm glad he's not the lead singer, since the songs fits Charlotte more than what they do Beck (which isn't that strange since he wrote them for her...). But if Beck decides to make his own version of her album, it would be up there with Modern Guilt.

#19 Blixa

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Posted 23 March 2010 - 01:17 PM

I find it hard to believe that Charlotte Gainsbourg is considered a mainstream artist, even in the same vein as Britney Spears. Off course, Serge launched her carreer. Allthough, he himself wasn't at his peak anymore in the late '80's just before he died. The good man made some incredible good records at the turn of the sixties to the seventies, after that it was just Serge the Provocateur, not the great singer he once was. Please look up at this performance of a great song. He is wasted and drunk out of his head. So when he launched Charlotte's carreer, he wasn't considered a major artist anymore. Not one to take serious anymore. She made one album with him in 1982, I believe, and that was it. She became an actress.

Her comeback album, 5.55, came out in 2006. Lyrics mainly written by Jarvis Cocker, music mainly written by Air. But she played the most important instrument: her voice. Just like on this new record, which I love even more than the 2006 record I guess. It's just an artistic collaboration. Beck got to work with the daughter of his hero and perhaps with a very nice person too. He would have got some money for it, of course, but that wasn't the main deal. It was just the artistic opportunity to work with her.

And if, it was about the money, the gigs in Europe wouldn't have been cancelled.

#20 kanda

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 12:48 PM

stylistically, shes not in the same vein as Brittany spears. but in principle. I say this because her career was handed to her via her father's legacy and her image factor. If she was out writing her own music, playing her shows by her self, marketing herself from day one an working her self from the bottom up over years of touring and fan establishment, I might think different about the whole placement. Music is an extremely difficult career to pursue, and I think it just sort of fosters some sour feelings knowing that someone else in the marketing dept, sort of did all the work; assigned her a band, a website, a distribution team, had videos made, ushered her into rehearsal, and beck's steady place in pop music transfers a security over to her.

I love the album and her work as an actress, but I find myself sort of more upset over the whole of it all, the ideology I guess.

I do know what you are saying, it realy is an artistic collaboration. But I can't help but feel the collaboration would be more meaningful it she had partly written the music, and it was less about image.



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