As an actress, Charlotte Gainsbourg has remoulded herself with startling ease, slipping into the skin of stoic mothers, wistful lovers and violently troubled misogynists. As a singer, she parlays this shape-shifting into atmospheric adult pop. Stage Whisper, a collection of live recordings and unreleased studio tracks, gives her costumes ranging from glittery electro-glam to slinking funk, folk, lounge and the utopian chorales beloved of former collaborators and countrymen Air.
Gainsbourg’s versatility as a vocalist is underrated; she invests all of these styles with remarkably different personalities. On the first disc, she conjures the doleful purity of the late Trish Keenan on “White Telephone,” while “Terrible Angels” has the snotty atonality of M.I.A., and on “Out Of Touch” she’s closer to the girlishness of Francoise Hardy. And just as Bjork has lately developed a weird mid-Atlantic cockney accent, Gainsbourg wanders into strange Anglicised vowels which lend spots of vivid color to the likes of “Got To Let Go.” The latter was written by and features Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale, and there are also collaborations with Connan Mockasin, Villagers and Beck, who produces the record with plenty of space and order.
The second disc, recorded at a concert of material from her first two records, showcases this versatility in real-time. On “IRM,” portentous chanting grazes against squalls of guitar noise, but her cover of Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” is all languor and sighs. Her voice switches into a compellingly nasal and androgynous cadence at times, recalling Clinic’s vindictive moments, and the eerie ennui of the Jarvis Cocker-penned “AF607105″ is masterfully rendered.
These songs might seem lightweight on first listen, but there’s a creepy opacity amid the strummed guitars and twinkling effects. Gainsbourg’s chameleonic voice hints at unsolved riddles, and that mystery hangs around long after the records have stopped playing.