Charlotte Gainsbourg – Terrible Angels EP review

I’ve been listening to a lot of David Bowie lately, and the thing that makes him cool, and this is hardly a new opinion, is that he never kept himself into one genre; a new Bowie album was always surprising, and his personality and musical style constantly changed.  A “musical chameleon”, as the term goes.  These days, whenever you see a musician who just uses their actual name as their band name, you pretty much know what you’re getting – more often than not, it’s pretty singer-songwriter folk.  Where have the “name only” artists who can do more than that gone?  French actor and musician Charlotte Gainsbourg tries to answer this with her newest EP entitled Terrible Angels, to mixed results.

The first thing that’s striking about this EP is that it’s not really an EP at all.  It’s probably more accurately defined as a single – yes, there are four songs on it, but only two of them are new tracks, with the other two being live recordings of 1) a song on one of her earlier albums and 2) a Bob Dylan cover.  This is a nitpicky little thing, but it matters – an EP is just a mini-record, and so the same ideas of consistency and singular artistic statement should be there, just on a smaller scale.  Meanwhile, this “EP” just feels like a single, a B-side, and two bonus tracks.

But how’s the music?  Not bad really, but not all that great.  The two new songs are well-written and fairly interesting tunes – the titular first track is, unexpectedly, a dirty synthpop song with a nice driving beat, and the second song “Memoir” is more in line with the typical singer-songwriter sensibility, with hushed vocals and a lightly plucked guitar taking center stage.  And that’s a bit of a letdown, truthfully – after the really surprising opener, having the follow-up be a soft acoustic number is just plain disappointing.

As for the other two tracks, “IRM”, from her 2009 album of the same name, is a noisy, droning song, and “Just Like a Woman” is….well, “Just Like a Woman”.  It’s a classic song, and Gainsbourg does it well, but she doesn’t really bring anything new to it other than replacing the raw, energetic feel of the original with soft vocals and “delicate” guitars.

At the end of the day, it’s obvious that Charlotte Gainsbourg is an artist that can do some interesting things, but Terrible Angels is a bit of a mess.  The four songs don’t match up with each other at all, and it simply doesn’t feel like a complete EP.  That being said, it’s nice to hear a singer-songwriter branching out, even though it only happens on two of the songs, and it’s certainly not bad by any means.  But it is horribly inconsistent, and that really prevents it from becoming anything more than a fairly decent collection of unrelated tracks.

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