Charlotte Gainsbourg, 'IRM' (Because Music/Elektra)

Critical Mass
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by Jon Young

Best known as an acclaimed, risky actress -- she starred in the disturbing Antichrist -- Charlotte Gainsbourg has had a scattershot musical career. In 1984, she duetted on the yucky "Lemon Incest" with legendary French raconteur Serge Gainsbourg (a.k.a. Dad), while 2006's sketchy 5:55 roped in Jarvis Cocker and Air.

But the enjoyable IRM (the medical procedure MRI backwards) is a full-fledged collaboration with Beck, who produces, cowrites, employs some of his studio team (his string arranger father David Campbell, drummer Joey Waronker), and even provides vocal support. As a result, it sounds like a Beck album with a female singer echoing his eclectic appetites -- subdued chamber pop plus clattering rhythmic jams.

Still, Gainsbourg is no puppet. Like Beck, she's a charming if limited vocalist, her deadpan inflections implying emotions rather than fully embodying them. Performing mostly in English, she alludes to real-life health issues (a 2007 cerebral hemorrhage), sighing, "Drill my brain all full of holes" on "Master's Hands," and ponders "the last dying day" on "In the End." The lyrics turn more oblique elsewhere.

Regardless, the music always entertains, from the eerie orchestral textures of "Le Chat du Café des Artistes" to the breezy T. Rex–style boogie of "Dandelion" to the rumbling fuzz bass in "Trick Pony." Gainsbourg and Beck generate one catchy track after another without producing much heat, but sometimes canny dabbling is its own reward.

WATCH: Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Heaven Can Wait"

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