Charlotte Gainsbourg

Charlotte Gainsbourg Biography

It is a measure of the extraordinary esteem in which she is held that Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of the brightest stars of modern French cinema, should make an album in partnership with such luminaries as Jarvis Cocker, the French duo Air, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and celebrated English producer Nigel Godrich.

The album, called ‘5:55’, represents a return to the studio for an artist who made her recording debut at the age of 13. Indeed, that first album came around the same time the young Charlotte made her film debut. Perhaps such burgeoning talents were always deeply embedded in her DNA – she is the daughter of legendary French poet and singer Serge Gainsbourg and the English actress Jane Birkin, herself one of France’s most cherished celebrities.

Her debut album, simply called ‘Charlotte Forever’, was a collection of songs written by her father. Lavishly received in France, the album hinted at the possibility of a long recording career. Instead, however, it was the cinema that gripped Charlotte’s attention.

She made her movie debut with ‘Parole et Musique’, the first of some 30 or so films that have established her awesome reputation as one of the beguiling screen actresses of her generation, feted by directors across Europe. At the age of 15, for instance, Charlotte won a Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar and an accolade she was to win again the following decade. Her many achievements include starring roles in director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar-nominated ‘21 Grams’ and Dominik Moll’s 2005 film, ‘Lemming’. Charlotte also stars in director Michel Gondry’s much anticipated ‘The Science of Sleep’ – the successor to his lauded ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ – which is due for release this autumn.

She briefly returned to the recording studio to sing the title song for her film, ‘Love, etc.’, and music remained a huge personal passion, with such artists as Radiohead, Beck and jazz musician Brad Meldhau among her favourites.

In 2001 Madonna sampled Charlotte’s voice – an extract from one of her films – as the intro to ‘What It Feels Like For a Girl’. Madonna wasn’t the only person to value the sound of that voice. Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy, asked Charlotte to sing backing vocals on his 2002 album, ‘Have You Fed the Fish?’, and she recorded ‘If’ with the acclaimed French artist Ètienne Daho in 2003.

All this, of course, looked very much like the prelude to something bigger, perhaps even a full-blown resumption of her singing career. But the real catalyst came when Charlotte was introduced to Air’s Nicolas Godin at a Radiohead concert in Paris. From that initial meeting came the idea of a new Charlotte Gainsbourg album.

Nigel Godrich had produced both Air and Radiohead, so it seemed natural to invite him to supervise the project – Godrich, of course, is the stellar producer whose credits also include Beck, Travis, REM and Paul McCartney as well as Thom Yorke’s current global hit album, ‘The Eraser’.

Further introductions were made, this time to Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon who, along with Charlotte, contributed the album’s lyrics. Air’s Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel wrote and played the music while Canadian composer David Campbell was responsible for the string arrangements. The father of Beck, Campbell’s previous work credits include not only his son but also such artists as Elton John, Leonard Cohen and Michael Jackson.

The album’s line-up was completed with the great Nigerian percussionist Tony Allen, revered for his work with Fela Kuti and recently described by Brian Eno as ‘the greatest musician on the planet’.

And so Charlotte Gainsbourg came to make the second album of her career, this time a rare kind of musical entente cordiale which highlights the almost dreamlike intimacy of her voice accompanied by an extraordinary portfolio of songs written and performed by some of the most accomplished talents in modern music.

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