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Return of sleeping beauty


Charlotte Gainsbourg

Essential: "5:55"

The resemblance to her mother, English actress and singer Jane Birkin, runs deeper than the wispy chestnut bangs and sensuously oversized mouth. Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of Birkin and noted Gallic lothario/singer Serge Gainsbourg, also inherited her mother's breathy, maudlin singing style. Gainsbourg, who has focused more on her acting career than singing, returned to the recording studio after a 20-year absence for "5:55." Calling this a Gainsbourg album is a slight misnomer. Electronic duo Air penned nearly all the music, and Jarvis Cocker (of the late, great Pulp) wrote most of the lyrics. But these gauzy songs are an ideal fit for Gainsbourg's dreamy, impossibly light voice. With sleep still in her voice, she drowsily sings the stunning "5:55" in Frenglish, reflecting on the neverland between a night that has gone on too long and a day that has yet to begin. This is also one of Air's finest moments (and far more engaging than the band's recent "Pocket Symphony"). While Gainsbourg's vocals often imply she's strolling along in a fog, her words are sharp, sometimes existential commentaries that help to ground Air's atmospheric effects. In the middle of the disc, she steps down from her Birkin-Gainsbourg throne of sensual chanteusing and nearly rocks on "The Songs That We Sing": "And these songs that we sing/ Do they mean anything to the people we're singing them to?" she asks. Happily, the answer is yes. [Christopher Muther]