Lou Doillon, Trans Musicales | New music reviews, news & interviews
Lou Doillon, Trans Musicales
Though not the finished article, Jane Birkin's actress-model daughter charms at Brittany's music fest
It was predestined that Lou Doillon would shadow her half-sister Charlotte Gainsbourg and their mother Jane Birkin by going into music. More surprising is that her full-length calling card, debut album Places, is entirely written by her. The female members of her clan have generally relied on material from outside, so Doillon is a trailblazer. Part of the annual Trans Musicales festival, this show at Salle de la Cité in Rennes, Brittany’s rain-soaked capital, was an opportunity to discover what she’s about before the UK release of Places next spring.
Equally foreseeable is that Doillon’s sartorial jib is cut from the same cloth as fellow actor-models Charlotte and Jane. Ice-lolly-stick thin, her jeans, cut-off biker boots and shirt could be casual but aren’t. No shabby chic here: what she wears is unfussy but haute. While singing she is still, occasionally tapping her right foot but limiting gestures to the odd cock of the head, a smile and bending her elbow to raise a hand, bringing her palm aloft. One arm at a time. Understatement commanding more attention than any grand gesture.
Her music is similarly precise and cool. Live, the studio lushness of Places is opened up by her all-male band. Produced by veteran French pop mover and shaker Étienne Daho, Places is warmly foggy with nothing distracting from her smoky voice. Her closest French peer is Keren Ann. Doillon’s songwriting nods towards country, but is more expansive, taking in influences ranging from Patti Smith (whom she could pass for in a dim light) and Spiritualized. All in English – as the songs were at this show – it’s obviously an album made with the international market in mind (photo right © Philippe Remond).
On stage though, Doillon is a more angular singer, with a tone that cuts through. Vocal mannerisms are somewhat overdone (when sung, “the game you play" becomes “the gay-yame you play-ay”.) But the live take is blunter, less blurred and all the better for that.
Despite this being a sold-out show with the street outside this municipally run, school hall-like venue lined with people desperate for spare tickets, Doillon took the stage to virtual silence. Her parents, Birkin and director Jacques Doillon, and her hot-line into the Gainsbourg lineage render her akin to royalty, so a hushed reverence made sense. Curiosity also cast its spell. She has played live elsewhere and been on TV. Places is lodged in France’s top five. The contrast between her status and the hardly state-of-the-art Salle de la Cité was marked – its malodorous mixed-sex outside toilets still sport those Gallic hole-in-the-ground wonders. Also, Trans Musicales is a festival with a reliable reputation for defining the cutting edge and finding the best of the up-and-coming, so Doillon’s presence was, to a large extent, a non sequiteur (photo left © Philippe Remond).
Once the suspense wore off, it was clear the musical skin Doillon’s assumed has a few chinks. She’s been writing and (very) sporadically recording since 2007, but Places is her first big statement. Beyond the over-egged vocal mannerisms, the only real misstep was a frightful version of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, made over as an Exile on Main Street-era Stones’-style country honk. Live, a fabulous and powerful run through Places' title track undeniably travelled the same track as Patti Smith’s “Horses”. The album’s opener “I.C.U.” was elegiac, lifting skyward as it progressed. “Defiant” was an irresistible sway.
Whether Doillon can pull it off across La Manche will rest or fall on whether the music can be decoupled from who she is, what she represents. While charming live, talking about learning songs in the kitchen, there are barriers to be crossed. But Places is good, she’s at home on stage so the diversions which aren’t an issue in France - where albums by actors, authors and models are day-to-day stuff - shouldn't distract when she goes international.
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