Following on from the world music stylings of 2002's remarkable Arabesque album, but dispensing with that album's reliance on Serge Gainsbourg compositions, 2004's Rendez-Vous is Jane Birken's most wide-open album in years, a joyous romp whose only downfall is, contrarily, the very factor that brought it so much attention. A collection of duets,Rendez-Vous pairs Birken with singers as far-flung as Etienne Daho and Bryan Ferry, Françoise Hardy and Beth Gibbons, and the success rate is thrown as far across the spectrum as the guests. Alain Chamfort, for example, can add nothing to "T'As Pas le Droit d'Avoir Moins Mal Que Moi" simply because his vocal approach really isn't that different to Birken's own, while Placebo frontman Brian Molko sounds more overwhelmed writing and singing for Birken than he ever did alongside David Bowie. Plus, "Smile" really isn't a very good song. The triumphs, on the other hand, stand alongside (almost) any duet Birken has recorded in the past. Her partnership with Hardy, "Surannée," is as astonishing as it ought to be; Gibbons' "Strange Melody" is a haunted atmosphere for two shattered voices; while linking with Ferry for a sparsely sinister (if a little overly fast) rendition of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" has a bizarre symmetry that defies belief. It is, after all, one thing for Ferry to sing a love song to a blow-up dolly, but what are listeners to make of Birken's half of the duet? Is the doll singing back to him? Does she have one of her own? Or are the protagonists locked into so dysfunctional a relationship that neither can see past the other's most obvious charms? But for all the album's failings (or, rather, those of its guests), Rendez-Vous is a wonderful album, a remarkable achievement, and as valuable a Birken album as any of her '90s releases.