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Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM (Because/Elektra) 

Music about life's pains and sorrows is nothing new, but rarely is it presented so directly.

Largely shunning metaphor and other songwriting veils, Charlotte Gainsbourg delivers an album that unravels the fear, disorientation and panic she felt in suffering and recovering from a brain hemorrhage in 2007. From the album's title—the French term for an MRI machine—to its lyrics and general soundscape, that health scare permeates the entire recording.

On hand to guide the French actress and singer is Beck, who co-wrote the lyrics, wrote the music and produced the recording. It's impossible to know whether Beck and Gainsbourg are close musical kindred spirits, or whether Beck simply placed his creative energy at the core of the project, but in all but the vocals—which exchange his slacker drawl for Gainsbourg's breathy and subdued singing—this is a Beck album.

The haunting electric hum of the MRI machine itself is woven into the music on the title song, while the lyrics lean toward medical terms: "Leave my head demagnetized / Tell me where the trouble lies."

While there is an openness and piercing honesty to baring her experiences so directly, Gainsbourg's sincerity sometimes ends up yielding some clunkier lines, like, "Drill my brain all full of holes / and patch it up before it leaks," from "Master's Hands."

But when the album peaks—like on the album's first single, "Heaven Can Wait," and "Time of the Assassins"—it's certainly a trip, down another twisting side path of Beck Lane.

More by Eric Swedlund

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