Jean-Claude Vannier, the enigmatic French composer, arranger, and producer, is best known for his own acclaimed recording L'enfant Assassin des Mouches (Insolitudes), which inspired collaborations with Serge Gainsbourg on Histoire de Melody Nelson and the soundtracks for Le Horse and Canabis (sic). His work with artists such as Jane Birkin, Gilbert Bécaud, Brigitte Fontaine, Françoise Hardy, Georges Moustaki, Astor Piazzolla, Juliette Gréco, Alain Bashung, and many film directors has earned him a sacred place in the French musical pantheon. Roses Rouge Sang (Blood Red Roses) is his first album of new studio material since 1990's Pleurez Pas les Filles. Vannier recorded in London and Paris, enlisting a group of studio collaborators from his '70s period, including drummers Pierre-Alain Dahan and Dougie Wright, bassists Herbie Flowers and Tony Bonfils, guitarists Vic Flick and Denys Lable, and percussionist Marc Chantereau, as well as the Sofia Buigarian String Orchestra. Vannier, in addition his signature singing, plays piano, organ, Wurlitzer, metallophone, toy piano, and other instruments unique to his sound. These ten tracks contain few -- if any -- 21st century production techniques. The sound is warm, organic, immediate, and timeless. "Les Yeux Valise" offers brooding strings that introduce Dahan's drop drums and Lable's uncompressed electric guitar; a pronounced, plucked electric bassline (Bonfils') paces the track. The slow tempo belies a melody that walks between sweet and menacing. The pace picks up on "Au Désespoir Des Singes," while razor-like guitars and strings introduce Vannier's vocal and piano in a shuffling yet dramatic rock beat. The strings insist on darkness while everything else -- including Chantereau's glockenspiel, céleste, and harpsichord -- is sprightly. "Les Pépins de la Raison" is driven by Chantereau's prepared marimba and Flowers' driving bassline, while Flick's guitar colors Vannier's sung lines; the strings offer an elliptical counter harmonic to the melody. The title track is Vannier-style French chanson. He plays everything but strings. His metallophone, toy piano, and harpsichord add the necessary atmosphere to complete a perverse musical fantasy. Vannier and band combine cabaret, chanson, and hard rock in the glorious "Une Partie de Scrabble" before closing with "Un Petit Quelque Chose," which has a delicate yet theatrical melody that evolves into a regal, then jazzy one due to Vannier's complex harmonic palette that nonetheless remains accessible to the listener. Roses Rouge Sang is no mere "comeback" recording, it is instead a colorful, exciting new chapter in an already glorious body of work.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek