Lou Doillon – Places (Verve Records (USA) / Decca (UK))
CD / DL
When Lou Doillon’s debut album made it’s UK release back in April press coverage focused on the singer’s background – daughter of director Jacques Doillon and the iconic Jane Birkin, half-sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg, actress, model and muse to Givenchy.
It’s been nice to give the album some time to find it’s own feet before reviewing in time for it to hit American ears ( UK, USA or whatever territory releases all seem a little redundant in the internet age but let’s honour, for the purpose of this review, the arbitrary dates set by record companies.)
Doillon sings in English, accented with her rasping and distinctive timbre. It shimmies around the quieter tracks but swells with inner confidence on more upbeat numbers as a foil for subtle horns and the occasional choral line. Understated production and the laid-back vocal means it sounds more interesting juxtaposition than overwrought trick pulling.
The album opens with I.C.U., an interesting lyrical take on the lingering impact of a lost, or indeed never found, love and an catchy introduction to the urban folk-pop sound explored across the rest of the LP.
That sound is pushed gently in other directions – a quieter moment letting that voice do the work, blues rock on more uptempo numbers. It nods to artists like Joni Mitchell but toward the middle of the album finds itself closer to Norah Jones and Katie Melua.
This wavering line between clean, safe pop and edgier folk artists remains throughout but there is more than enough moments of interest to pair with the effortless cool exuded by Doillon. In Hushaby you are given the idea of Patti Smith covering REM’s Star Me Kitten; shining but unhurried, coy smiles and rippling riffs – an unexpected combination that both soothes and excites.
Doillon sings from a place of beauty and privilege. This album is focused on love lost or frustratingly out of reach, of trying to please and disappointing, of a blurred line between objectification and adulation. But it is as we draw toward the end another turn is taken with title track Places falling for the influence of Patti Smith-style spoken word.
This is where a pleasant but moderate album shoots suddenly to the stratosphere, where the songstress leaves behind the woes of love lost and sings instead of society. ‘Perfectioned our weapons,but we still need more. To balance our peace, we’re selling you war, can you afford it?’ she intones, urgency growing as the melody breaks around it. Truly, this is the secretly beating punk poet heart of the album.
I almost wish she’d ended the album there and left me with a glowing feeling of the potential indicated through the track. But Places is the penultimate number and the album closes with Real Smart. Far from being a bad song melodically it is a comedown after the mirror to society lyric as this returns to the safer ground of reflecting on the self and relationships. But the slow-build of this track perfectly suits Doillon’s sultry voice and as the track builds to include a choir it makes an atmospheric end to a promising debut.
With her background, success and connections Lou Doillon could have released an album far less interesting and accomplished than Places. This is a debut that shows a songwriter finding her way into music and certainly peaks to show true potential in vocal, lyric and melody. But this is also an accessible album that doesn’t challenge or frighten people away – if as an artist she does pursue the punk poet leanings of the track Places that could be a very exciting combination.