Charlotte's Little Helper

Serge Gainsbourg's daughter has Beck to thank for her album and tour.

Charlotte Gainsbourg entered the world as the child of '70s pop-culture luminaries Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg and made herself into an award-winning actress, the face of the ultrachic Parisian brand Balenciaga, and a singer with a record that earned rave reviews. But the girl who recorded a song called "Lemon Incest" with her father is surprisingly bashful about getting onstage.

"Recording a record is even more intimate than doing a film," Gainsbourg said in a recent phone call from Los Angeles, where she was rehearsing for her first-ever headlining tour, "and then to go onstage is another world. You're not hiding behind another character."

Gainsbourg, in fact, was too nervous even to hit the road in support of her previous record, 2006's 5:55. She'll need to get over the stage fright—her tour is quickly selling out (for example, the April 14 Crocodile show) to fans of IRM, her breezy folk-pop record, which was entirely written (lyrics and all) and produced by Beck.

"[Beck] asked me if I was going to tour with this album," Gainsbourg said. "He said, 'You need more upbeat songs if you're going to.' The fact that he was behind me was very, very helpful."

One of the record's inspirations was an accident—a water-skiing injury that landed Gainsbourg in the hospital and required several emergency procedures, including an MRI scan (in its French acronym, IRM). She became attracted to the drumming sounds inside the cocoon-like machine: "I liked the idea that you could go from something very clinical and cold to something more abstract, like what you have in your head."

IRM is indeed cerebral, as delicate as Gainsbourg's graceful persona, but it's also much more rhythmic and approachable than her previous recordings. The songs are at times flighty, at times folky—some of the simplest, prettiest music Beck's written in a long time—and the impression Gainsbourg gives is of an assured, quietly world-wise artist. Even if she is, well, petrified of you.

"I didn't want to be just put there on my own. I didn't have the confidence to do it on my own," she said. "Now I've met with great musicians, and the rehearsals are going well. It has become a pleasure."

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