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Charlotte Gainsbourg plays head games on 'IRM'

Imagine a James Bond movie populated not with spies and sexpots but indie kids and dirty ashtrays. All the inherent espionagical cool is still intact, but there's a vague, coffeehouse disinterest in the mystery at hand. The 007 soundtrack remains rife with stirring instrumentation, swooshing strings, prickly percussion. But instead of Shirley Bassey belting the profundo, the new voice is quiet, lush, contemplative. There is sexy, smoldering angst afoot — and lots of smoke. The Spy Who Dumped Me. Sigh Another Day. Licence to Chill.

Her name is Gainsbourg, Charlotte Gainsbourg. And her new album, IRM, is a benumbed stunner, like Bond music on Percocet. Of course, IRM is also very much Beck's new album, too. The quirky alt-pop star produced and wrote the record. And although she's French, and he's American (by way of Mars), they share a retro thirst for skewed cocktail grooves and '60s British New Wave. Beck, 39, brings the paisley sounds. Vocalist Gainsbourg, 38, the daughter of musician Serge Gainsbourg, summons the Francophilic ability to seduce and confound.

In 2007, Gainsbourg suffered a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of a water-skiing accident. She's had extensive MRIs ever since — or, in French, IRMs, thus the name of her album. It's a dizzying enterprise, as Beck looks into her head, and she gazes into his. "Take a picture, what's inside? Ghost image in my mind," she hushes on the title track, as Beck whips up what sounds like disco interpretation of a 1950s science-class filmstrip.

This odd pop charmer reaches swoony romantic highs on Le Chat du Cafe des Artistes as Gainsbourg, who's also a successful actor, seduces and ruminates in her native French while Beck makes like Henry Mancini on psychotropics. You should give it a try. As Beck and Gainsbourg explore each other's noggins, don't be surprised if they set up shop in yours, as well.

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Cheshire Caterwauling

I'm a big fan of Tim Burton. Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood: perfection. My daughters demand that Pee-wee's Big Adventure stays in heavy rotation at the Daly manse. And yet the upcoming Alice in Wonderland, the thicket-haired director's Lewis Carrollian enterprise, which opens everywhere on Friday, carries a faint stink of "stay away." Granted, I've seen only trailers and clips for the Disney release. Some of the images are predictably dark and gorgeous, but Johnny Depp's tweaked-out Mad Hatter is already grating. Perhaps the most egregious omen is Avril Lavigne's soundtrack single Alice. Have you heard this? The piano-pounded ballad is reminiscent of Alicia Keys with a migraine — or Pat Benatar getting attacked by raccoons. The choice of Lavigne, especially for a very expensive Mouse House flick, is curiouser and curiouser; post-Complicated, her first and biggest hit, Lavigne has become besotted tabloid fare and not much else. To be honest, I didn't even know she was still making music; to be brutally honest, I think I liked it better that way. To hear Lavigne's song, watch her video and see clips of Alice in Wonderland, go to Pop Life online at popmusic.

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The Ginger Playlist

I'm terrified of Howdy Doody. Something in that smug smile, those demonic eyes, the taunting freckles like splatters of blood after a three-state killing rampage. And that shock of red hair: chilling. Because of that no-good marionette, I avoid redheads in general. However, it's time for me to face my Doody fears for the good of the world. My pals at tb-two*, the Times' high school pub, tell me that "gingers" — especially redheads in the high school ranks — are being persecuted. There's even a spokesginger on YouTube whose defense of reds, in light of a wicked South Park episode, has more than 3 million views! "It really irritates me that South Park would say that red-haired people don't have souls," the spokesginger laments. "Lately I've been called a fat ginger by everybody at school!" Normally, I'd champion anything that takes down Howdy Doody's red reign of terror. But the spokesginger is really upset about the "no souls" thing. And supposedly redhead harassment is up like 300 percent on our playgrounds and kickball fields. So here's a little rallying music to champion the ginger cause. And why not? Blonds may have more fun, but in the world of music, redheads have the better hooks.

1. Red Headed Woman, Bruce Springsteen

2. Cinnamon Girl, Neil Young

3. Copperhead Road, Steve Earle

4. Ginger, Hooverphonic

5. Red Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson

6. Fire Woman, the Cult

7. Agent Orange, Pharoahe Monch

8. Strawberry Fields Forever, the Beatles

9. Tomorrow, Little Orphan Annie

10. Red Red Wine, UB40

Charlotte Gainsbourg plays head games on 'IRM' 02/27/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 1, 2010 1:36pm]
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