In 1981, while discussing the band Catholic Discipline, Robert Christgau opined, "Somebody tell Claude Bessy zat zere is no such thing as French rock and roll." For good or ill, Christgau summed up the American critical consensus on Gallic rock -- the French may love rock & roll, but they weren't much good at playing the stuff. This school of thought has been reinforced by the fact very few French rock bands have ever made any mark in the United States (prog outliers Magma and Gong, who arguably fared best, had little more than cult followings stateside), not even to the small degree that French pop is recognized in North America. However, France was one of the first places in Europe that embraced punk rock once the scene began to coalesce in the U.K., and even before that -- Iggy & the Stooges and the New York Dolls had loyal fan followings in France years before punk gave them a new context. In an effort to set the record straight about the French contribution to '70s punk, Soul Jazz Records has delivered an installment in the PUNK 45 series titled PUNK 45: Les Punks: The French Connection: The First Wave of Punk 1977-80. The album collects 19 tracks from 17 bands that were recording during the first wave of European punk rock, and if this doesn't connect as hard as the typical American or British punk comp from the same period, it does confirm France had a lively scene that left behind some admirably tough and effective sides. Les Fantômes and Angel Face confirm the level of Stooges worship in France; Metal Urbain's fusion of distorted guitars and drum machines anticipated Big Black by six years; Guilty Razors suggest a unique fusion of the Heartbreakers and noise rock; Gazoline offer a malignant take on Bowie's Spiders from Mars period; Charles de Goal, Kas Product, and A3 dans le WC confirm there were plenty of angular and arty new wave acts on the scene; and 84 Flesh and the Dogs navigate the border between punk and hard rock. Not everything on this collection sounds stellar in the 21st century, but even the weakest tracks here are smart and muscular rock & roll, and while most first-era punk rock from the U.S. and U.K. has been compiled to death, most of these tracks have been little heard outside their native land, making this relatively fresh listening. Les Punks isn't likely to change the prejudice against French rock, but it's hard evidence that punk rock gave their scene a welcome kick in the butt just as it did all around the world.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming