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All Killer – Mlah (1988)

May 25th, 2020 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

I think I have mentioned that, in the list of albums I would consider to be all-killer-no-filler, debut albums are disproportionately represented, and this is another example. It is a very personal choice and probably not a favourite of many people, at least not many British people. At the time it came out, there was quite a buzz about Les Négresses Vertes in certain circles. They were cropping up quite a lot as guests on TV shows that I watched – late night stuff without a large audience like the James Whale show or Rapido.

At the time I was also going through one of my trying-to-learn-French phases because I was going to Paris a couple of times a month. Instead of working through text books and verb tables I was listening to French rock. This particular album came with all the lyrics printed on the inside sleeve so I would listen to it over and over, referring to my Collins-Robert dictionary to try and decypher the very colloquial language.

As a result I must know this record better than most I have owned and could sing more of the lyrics than most records in English – even if I don’t always know what they mean. It is a terrible admission, but I don’t really pay attention to lyrics much. I have favourite songs that I have liked for decades but I couldn’t sing along to them, but there are half a dozen tracks on this record I used to be word perfect on and could still have a decent stab at in a French karaoke.

If I remember right, the first copy I bought had a scratch so I took it back to Our Price in Lewisham and they replaced it. The replacement was also damaged, but the shop had no more so I accepted the cassette version instead. The tape did not have the lyrics in so I wrote to the the record company to complain and they sent me another LP (which was was also damaged). Later on I bought the CD.

I will say that the last track, La Père Magloire, does not do much for me but that and Hey Maria were only added to the CD version and were not on the original vinyl LP so although the CD has a bit of filler for me, the ‘proper’ LP is all killer.

So what is it like? Generally LNV were sort of acoustic gypsy punk back in 1988. After the singer, Helno, died they did become a bit more polished and over time they became less shouty and more trance-y.  I like all their various incarnations, but hold a special affection for this first album.

It starts with a short instrumental that would be filler if it was anywhere but at the start and lasted any longer than 1.5 minutes. As it is it is a decent curtain-raiser for the set and leads nicely into the track that was their big hit – Zobi La Mouche. Full of accordion and based on an Arabic rhythm, it is an extreme example of a band peaking early, with the first proper track on their first album.

The rest of side one is a string of certified bangers. C’est Pas la Mer à Boire is brooding and ominous. Voilà l’Été is summery, but in a stifling, claustrophobic sort of way. Oran is another hypnotic Arabic-sounding track. La Faim des Haricots is the sort of song that gave LNV their shouty reputation, the way it starts with a call and response bit. It continues in a variety of hesitant rhythms and crams in so many words per line it can be hard to follow. I think that is where side one ended.

Side two starts with Les Yeux de Ton Père, which seems to be about your Mum making an omelette out or your Dad’s eyes, but maybe that is a euphemism for something. I don’t know, but it sounds great: driving acoustic guitar, stabs of brass and plenty of shouting in French. This is followed by another accordion-heavy song, Il, which is one of my absolute favourites for signing along. It has a real drinking song swing to it.

The album rounds off with the laid-back but anthemic L’Homme des Marais, and the increasingly raucous and brass-heavy trio of Les Rablablas les Roubliblis, Marcelle Ratafia and La Danse des Négresses Vertes. That is a great way to end an album, so its always strange to hear the CD version with its two extra tracks. The first extra track is Hey Maria, which fits in well with the rest. Not so sure about La Père Magloire which is a bit rock & roll compared to the rest. Not a bad song but it just does not fit with the rest.

Here is the highlight of an album full of highlights – the story of Zobi the fly.

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