A performer walking onto the playing field with a name like Gainsbourg is automatically facing a higher bar than most actresses making pop albums. But a famous name also makes it easier to tackle a variety of styles, and to attract a notable cast of assistants. For 5:55, Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Jane Birkin and French hero Serge Gainsbourg) received assistance from Jarvis Cocker, the guys in Air, and The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, and the whole thing was produced by Nigel Godrich. In fact, all the music on her second full-length (the first was an album she released in her teens that included her infamous "Lemon Incest" duet with dad) was penned by Air, with Gainsbourg receiving just a pair of writing credits.
The results are predictably dramatic, but the album succeeds because nothing is blown out of proportion; Gainsbourg doesn't have the best voice on the planet, but her seductive breathiness helps boost all the subtleties. Some songs are bigger than others, but for the most part, the strings, piano, vibraphone, glockenspiel, etc. create a moody, inviting, mysterious experience. Gainsbourg sings mostly in English, which gives her a better shot at making a splash in America, but also means lines like "You are everything I ever wanted, and you are my lover" are significantly more cringe-worthy than they would have been in French. Then again, this is the same person who once lay on a bed in her underwear while singing about incest with her shirtless father, so a little discomfort is to be expected. And really, 5:55 isn't difficult at all; with its dreamy instrumentation and sturdy melodies, it's easy listening for the cool kids.