Rest is deeply personal reflection of Charlotte Gainsbourg. A mature artist, she is wise enough to call on some for help, but reject anything inauthentic. DJ and remixer SebastiAn produced and composed the majority of the album. A fellow Frenchman, it is evident he appreciates the gravity of the elder Gainsbourg, Serge, and crafts an album reflective of him, while being distinctively Charlotte.
The one time Gainsbourg does hand over the songwriting reins, it is to Paul McCartney, on “Songbird in a Cage.” Canadian composer Owen Pallet adds lush strings and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo brings his synths. The production of Rest was an intimate party, and only musicians impressive enough to someone who grew up with a cultural icon were invited. But lucky for us, the long-belabored product is here. We’ve been granted the privilege of dancing along while Gainsbourg bares her soul.
Rest begins with "Ring-a-Ring O’Roses,” a dreamy and downtempo song that plays on the subtly somber nursery rhyme associated with the Black Plague. Singing “round and round,” Gainsbourg ponders the circular nature of life and death, love and grief. Throughout Rest, the combination of French and English is reflective of Gainsbourg’s own upbringing, with a British mother and French father. Her provocative relationship with and reverence for dear old dad is examined in “Lying with You.” Gainsbourg, singing mainly in French, croons and whispers as she imagines lying next to the body of the elder Gainsbourg, who died in 1991.
“Kate” is a meditation on the death of Gainsbourg’s half-sister Kate Barry, who committed suicide during the production of Rest. She sings in her native French, eulogizing Barry with bright instrumentation. Picking up the tempo and mood, “Deadly Valentine” is an epic dance track with wedding vows for lyrics. Similarly pop-influenced is “Sylvia Says,” a funky disco send-up of Sylvia Plath’s villanelle “A Mad Girl’s Love Song.” The pairing seems anachronistic, but only adds more depth to the context of the album. The original poem has a bouncy rhyme scheme and silly quality, despite its manic content. In the same way, Gainsbourg tackles death, longing, and grief—to the tune of syncopated dance grooves. Rest plays out contemplating this dichotomy on “Les Oxalis,” a grand electro-ballad about visiting her sister’s grave. In the very last minute, the cycle begins anew, a child singing her alphabet as a mashup of letters and sounds.
Charlotte Gainsbourg has spent a life under scrutiny. Though her music has often had a personal feel, Rest is the first vivid glimpse into Gainsbourg’s personal life. An actress and singer, up until this point, her act has been mainly performative. But on her fifth album, the listener is granted access to a vulnerable, realistic version of Gainsbourg. Unsurprisingly, it’s the most compelling version yet. Rest is complex and accessible. It is a beautiful album, by a brilliant woman with impeccable taste. What more could you ask for?
Notable Tracks: “Deadly Valentine” | “Lying with You” | “Sylvia Says”