Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 44
Tues, Mar 12, 2013

“The Operation”
Charlotte Gainsbourg


“♫ And
if I pull this
off/ I’ll refuse
the Nobel Prize/
instead I will
look into your

Just ask Ziggy Marley, James McCartney, Sean or Julian Lennon, try being the offspring of a legend…it’s literally impossible to try to stake your own creative claim when everything you record is measured up to the greatness of your father’s legacy. If you think that’s unfair trying being the French progeny daughter of Sixties erotic pop prince guru Serge Gainsbourg. The same father who had his daughter record the song “Lemon Incest” while she was only twelve years old. When asked if it was shocking to have your Dad produce such an explicit song, Charlotte Gainsbourg replied, “No not at all. It was a wonderful environment to work in. There was a lot of jumping in and out of swimming pools and not many takes. It was only when I met Air and later on Jarvis that I realized that I could work with people and create music again.”

Compared to her father Serge’s strict direction in the studio, Charlotte found Jarvis a much needed collaborating while recording 5.55 in 2006. Charlotte described the differences between Pulp’s lead singer and chief lyricist Jarvis Cocker and her father when she said, “My father was far more conductorly; Jarvis would explain things more in terms of an end feeling.” Gainsbourg discussedd the personal evolution of recording 5.55 with Air and Jarvis when she said, “It was a very important step for me, in itself, I did my first album with my father, 20 years ago. I thought I would never do anything without him. There was no point, it would never happen. And then with time I gradually wanted to do something again. I didn’t know how, or with who. I knew I couldn’t do anything on my own. So when I met Air, it all became possible.”

One of the conditions she laid down for Air and Jarvis was that she would only sing in English, it was significant because it opened up for 5.55 to be experienced by a larger global audience. It was a right decision as Gainsbourg discussed with The Guardian UK when she said, “I told them, and it’s too heavy for me, because of my father.The whole process lasted more than a year. I was able to go into a studio with them, see them work, I was there every day. Sometimes I didn’t have anything to do, because the words weren’t written yet. It was like a workshop. And being able to be there and talk about what I wanted to talk about, and try to write lyrics … well, I did try, but it didn’t work out. I did manage to write a little piece which Jarvis made into the last song, Morning Song.”

Jarvis also helped Gainsbourg composed one of the most unusual love songs ever as he explained in his book Mother Brother Lover, “Writing for Charlotte was a far more collaborative experience than the song for Marianne Faithfull [Kissin’ Times’ “Sliding Through Life on Charm”] had been. I was in the studio whist the music was being worked on and I would show Charlotte lyrical ideas. “The Operation” started out as a fairly romantic song about a lover trying to atone for his past sins by mending his former lover’s heart. Charlotte found this idea too ‘soppy’ and suggested the story take a darker route, I followed her suggestions and the song improved immeasurably as a result.”

“The Operation” is a modern love song about a former lover doing an autopsy on a former relationship. Charlotte had the intriguing idea of taking Jarvis suggestion about mending a lover’s heart and gave it a more twisted meaning. I love the soft French Pop sounds Air layered over Gainsbourg’s whispered vocal. By alleviating Jarvis’s and Charlotte’s menacing lyrics Air made her distinctive song fantasy less terrifying. Gainsbourg explained the genesis of “The Operation,” when in 2012, she told The Mail on Sunday, “My greatest struggle has been finding confidence as a singer. Though I’ve made three albums, I never think of myself as a singer. Stepping up to a microphone has always been traumatic for me, because I’ve felt like I was standing in the shadow of my father’s greatness. When I was making the 5.55 album with Jarvis Cocker in 2006, he could see how intimidated I was in the studio. He’d been the same when he started out, and explained that he used to hide his face behind a cloth when he sang in the studio. That gave me the idea of singing behind a sheet. It was liberating to isolate myself in that way.”

Charlotte summed up her experiences recording 5.55 to New York Magazine like this, “Air said, ‘We don’t care about the lyrics; for us, it’s the music,’ But I wanted to be proud of what I was going to say. Air loved what Jarvis did in the end. We had this person in common.” But 5.55 was more than a tribute to the shadow of her father’s living legacy the late great Serge Gainsbourg, as she explained on M-TV’s Subterranean, the inspirations for her debut album “Things like, “Dreams, the films ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz;’ it’s always a mixture of childhood memories and life experience. I don’t know what [Air] picked from the list of ideas I gave them. It was just in order for them to get an idea of what I had in my head. Very quickly we came to the idea of the night, that it would be sort of nocturnal — it would have that sort of atmosphere and from there it would be very easy to get into dreams.”

“The Operation” is a glimpse inside the mind of Charlotte Gainsbourg. Her songs from 5.55 do sound like a mishmash of The Shining and The Wizard of Oz. If you want to feel the sound of Charlotte’s dream, with help from Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, go under her lyrical knife and experience the terrifying brilliance of Gainsbourg’s “The Operation.”
the Charlotte