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Jean-Claude Vannier - Roses Rouge Song / Electro Rapide

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Artist: Jean-Claude Vannier

Album: Roses Rouge Song / Electro Rapide

Label: B-Music

Review date: Jan. 13, 2012

Jean-Claude Vannier has already established that you can go home again. In 2006 he staged a massive and massively feted show at the Barbican in London, which used the talents of Mick Harvey, Jarvis Cocker, Brigitte Fontaine, and an orchestra to revive Histoire de Melody Nelson, the album he arranged for Serge Gainsbourg, and L’enfant Assassin des Mouches, his contemporaneous album of instrumentals. None of that one-man imaginary soundtrack stuff for Vannier; he composed a pop/orchestral hybrid of vast scope that required equally vast resources.

Vannier has remained active composing for TV and films. One thing he hasn’t done much in the last 20 years is make solo records; he did one in 1990, another 2005, and now Roses Rouge Song, which has been issued simultaneously with a vault-cleaning selection of ‘60s and ‘70s material called Electro Rapide. Roses Rouge Song quite consciously evokes Vannier’s past work. For Gainsbourg, Vannier embellished slick, funky grooves with grand string gestures; on his own, he threw in Middle Eastern reed sonorities that contributed to a dizzying sense of displacement. But as anyone who has taken a turn in a 1967 Corvette muscle car and then taken the wheel of a 1997 one knows, the past is hard to recapture, and even its improvements may work against it. It may go faster, it may resist rust better, but it’s not the same.

“Londres-Paris-Sofia” opens the record with a bit of orchestral tuning up, an amuse-bouche to pique your interest, then serves up a big slab of retro styling that evokes a remembered past with au courant components. “Les Yeux Valise” has the swooping strings and the genteel, bad-ass groove down, but it doesn’t sound right. For a start, there’s Vannier’s voice, which is not bad, but certainly not in a league with Gainsbourg’s. Maybe that’s an unfair comparison, since who can sing like Serge? One of a kinds are one of a kind by definition, and efforts to sound like them can at best be praised as good copies. Still, Vannier’s croon would not be as disappointing if it wasn’t thrust so far in your face; the mix puts him on top of the music, as huge as a bobblehead’s dome in comparison to its body.

And then there’s the recording itself. Despite a self-conscious evocation of old working methods, it doesn’t sound the same. The rhythm section often has a tiny, mixed-on-a-desktop feel, so that it and the orchestra coexist like two YouTube videos playing at once on a split screen. And Vick Flick’s guitar leads, which reproduce ‘70s clichés like high-end pleather reproduces leather, distract whenever he steps out front. This isn’t going back home again, this is buying an expensive simulacrum, and the differences between then and now jar most distractingly. One wishes for a defter deployment of contemporary elements or a more complete recreation of the past, and most especially for another guitar player.

Jean-Claude Vannier – “L’ours Paresseux”

None of these problems surface on Electro Rapide, since it’s all old stuff. Some of it hasn’t been released before and some of it came out 40 years ago on EPs you’ll never find unless you’re hooked up with a source of collectable French vinyl and a 1 percenter-sized checkbook to pay for it. If you want to know what made Vannier a great soundtrack artist, you’ll find out here. The mix of exotic woodwinds that bridge French and North African traditions, sumptuously recorded and imaginatively arranged strings, and a muscular rock ensemble continually piques the ear. Some of this stuff sounds very much of its time; “Saturnin Et La Vaca Vaca,” a theme for a kids’ show about a duck, sounds just like you would expect -- cute and Gallic. Other stuff is quite leftfield; confronted at one recording session with a woman’s choir full of pregnant singers, he had them work up a piece for hand percussion and breathing techniques. And “L’ours Paresseux,” composed in 1969 for a puppet show, is at once eerie and absolutely thrilling. Whether new or old, it sounds just right. The only complaint I can register about Electro Rapide is that at less than 25 minutes length, there just isn’t enough of it.

By Bill Meyer

Other Reviews of Jean-Claude Vannier

L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches

Histoire de Melody Vannier (Mixed by Andy Votel)

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View all articles by Bill Meyer

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