On one hand, Charlotte Gainsbourg's inspiration for her new album, IRM, seems perfectly reasonable. In 1997, the Parisian singer/actress suffered a brain hemorrhage leading to several IRMs (French for MRI), which led to her musical inquiry into modern technology and her own mortality. And the album, which was actually composed and co-written by Beck, affects that down-the-rabbit-hole sense of life turned upside down. The wispy orchestrals punctuated by just enough machine-like cacophony, often work well with Gainsbourg's pretty vocals. "In the End" has a haunting clarity. "Trick Pony" brings out a little soulful sensuality, while "Dandelion" is a throwback to Donovon-styled coolness.
On the other hand, the robotic feel of the title track and hollow songs like "Master's Hand" almost come off as hazy soundtracks to some drug-induced 1960s cult film. Knowing the concept of the album might make it easier to swallow, but in some ways it's just trying too hard to pinpoint an overwrought, existential moment. The tribal drumming, symphonic crescendos and synthesized frills don't give the album enough warmth. And though I like Gainsbourg's vocals, sometimes it just feels like she's not there. Or she's merely a puppet. In this case, Beck's.