Genre: Musique Concrète, Pop Rock, Prog Rock, Avantgarde, Psychedelic Rock, Ethereal, Special Effects, Experimental
Label: Suzelle (1972), Finders Keepers Records (2005)
Like most people, my introduction to Jean-Claude Vannier came via Serge Gainsbourg’s legendary 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson. One of the highlights of the album was Vannier’s lush arrangements set against the backdrop of Gainsbourg’s seductive voice and psychedelic, eclectic sounds.
Produced the following year, L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches (The Child Assassin of the Flies) became the experimental follow-up. It was Jean-Claude Vannier’s solo album with Gainsbourg pitching in by writing the most peculiar liner notes imaginable. They were about a young, fly-torturing child who received his just desserts when lured down into the underground fly kingdom.
In celebrating 10 years of Finders Keepers Records, Andy Votel reminisced about the rediscovery of L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches:
Jean-Claude Vannier was the lesser-spotted, tell-tale seal of sample-friendly quality when it comes to crate-digging ‘en Francais’. Suitably, when rumours amongst French record dealers claiming “the band who played Melody Nelson recorded a follow-up lp” became a legend of psychedelic folklore. Another unconfirmed rumour about Jean-Claude Vannier taking the remaining out-takes of the beloved Melody Nelson to create a promo-only experimental rock LP left sample hungry producers and DJs in turmoil.
The album became the quintessential holy grail record for the serious vinyl diggers, including Votel. Limited to just 100 promo copies on its release in 1972, L’Enfant Assasin des Mouches’ exclusivity gave the quest to find a copy decades afterward an even greater draw. The Finders Keepers crew finally tracked down Vannier in their quest to find the record. They later admitted that the man was easier to find than a copy of his work.
Diggers became even more intrigued as they learned more about Vannier, who had actually worked with notable names of the French music scene such as Françoise Hardy, Johnny Hallyday, Brigitte Fontaine, as well as Serge Gainsbourg.
In describing the album, Matthew Murphy accurately pointed out that “L’Enfant Assasin des Mouches is exactly the sort of extravagant 1970s period piece that simply couldn’t get produced today, even if someone had the studio resources and the sheer chutzpah to try.” He went on to suggest that “without access to any of today’s sampling technology, Vannier was forced to make all of his wild stylistic leaps in multi-tracked real time with real musicians– employing a string quartet, the Jeunesse de France choir, a full horn section, and special effects ranging from billiard balls to a model helicopter.”
Allmusic reviewer, Thom Jurek, also tried to articulate the impossible and sum up the album. He suggested Vannier’s work “is the terrain where soundtrack music, classical music, gauche pop, hard rock, French café music, Middle Eastern modal music, vanguard musical iconoclasty, and sound effects collide, stroke, and ultimately come into union with one another — often in a single cut.”
L’Enfant Assasin des Mouches was described as “a sumptuous, strings-drenched paean to erotic love with a funky psychedelic rock group at its core… the album ranks for many alongside the contemporaneous and comparable rock-operatics of David Axelrod’s late ‘60s/early ‘70s output,” according to Daniel Spicer in Popmatters. Indeed, the parallels to the avant guarde American arranger/ producer led to Jean-Claude Vannier being called the French David Axelrod.
While it isn’t difficult to see the similarities with Axelrod or Gainsbourg, one could argue that Vannier took making music even more to the extreme. The bizarre cacophony of sounds in L’Enfant Assasin des Mouches led Jurek to suggest Vannier’s masterpiece “is to music what surrealism was to literature: a bold new step that has been unmatched in vision and unequaled in performance since it was recorded. “
Andy Votel et al admitted L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches was the catalyst to start their own record label. B-Music and Finders Keepers were the results of Votel finding and licensing a copy of the album. They later admitted on Finders Keepers Radio that they would have been happy for the record label to stop after Vannier. That was the extent of the pleasure it brought them to release this long, lost masterpiece, which is described on their website as, “deeply psychedelic, unsettlingly original and hypnotically involving.”
L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches is as bizarre as it sounds. It isn’t an easy transition from Gainbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson but one worth taking. “So utterly does it hold the listener’s attention that, in the final few moments, when the child fly-killer meets his grisly doom, and the album ends with a saccharine—and in this context undeniably nightmarish—elegiac flourish, one can almost see the word ‘FIN’ projected on the screen of one’s imagination” (Votel).
Written by: Ross Genower