Jean-Claude Vannier spent the early part of 2011 setting music to the lyrics of controversial French writer Michel Houllebecq, who after writing on the joylessness of sex in Les Particules élémentaires (or Atomised in the UK) and engendering controversy thanks to an ambiguous relationship with Islamophobia, has taken to singing.

The single, Le film du dimanche, or 'The Sunday Night Film', retains Houllebecq’s characteristic pessimism ("France is in good spirits, I am the only one who feels unwell," he sings) but the musical arrangement, by the much lesser known Vannier, is as characteristic of his style; swinging, choleric, and a little pompous, as well as playful.

It’s a style that can be felt across French pop music. While many in the UK would associate French music with Édith Piaf or Serge Gainsbourg, Jean-Claude Vannier, whose influence on the Gainsbourg sound can be felt on his iconic album Histoire de Melody Nelson, on which Vannier worked, has contributed much to the notion of the French pop record as heard by English ears. And just as much as his more famous contemporaries, he’s come to define the Gallic sound, through both his collaborations and his volume of scores for film and TV. In a career entering a sixth decade, Vannier has worked extensively as a collaborator and composer and produced six albums as a solo artist, as well as a collection of short stories – so he’s no idler.

But there wasn’t a famous film made about Jean-Claude Vannier, like there was about Piaf or Gainsbourg. So, to an English audience, what’s to be made of the new collection Electro Rapide, an album of previously unpublished snippets, retrieved from Vannier’s archive of recordings over a five year period between 1986 and 1973?

First, it’s short. Beginning (and ending, in a different guise) with the rattling and rolling piano and the screeching jazz of ‘Bombarde Lamentation’ and hurtling through a further thirteen tracks, the whole experience lasts less than 30 minutes. As such, it isn’t something you can get your teeth into: it really is a collection rather than an album.

As a way of experiencing Vannier’s work though, it’s perfect. There are echoes of Gainsbourg, the cool ‘La Girafe Au Ballon’ sounding like it was designed for Serge to sing over its sexy bass, and Gainsbourg’s deep stylings would fit just as nicely over the more whimsical ‘Saturnin Vaca Vaca’, as well as the spy-thriller sounding ‘Theme 504’ and the sultry ‘Je M'appelle Geraldine’, which sounds slightly like Gainsbourg’s ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. And there’s plenty else. These instrumentals, from the child-like ‘Crocodiles’, ‘L' Éléphant Équilibriste’ and ‘Road to Cuba’ to the percussion-led ‘Le Ballet des Accoucheuses’ and ‘L' Ours Paresseux’, are strong, evocative and varied.

Indeed, Electro Rapide represents an excellent introduction to the world of Jean-Claude Vannier’s music, and the relative shortness isn’t even a problem. After all, a lot of the stuff here works according to the kinds of pop structure that people are used to, so two or three minute songs aren’t a problem. Electro Rapide is also so short that, should somebody want to – and people will, it’s that catchy – the whole album can just go on loop.

While it doesn’t represent the most crafted of works, this is a collection that offers a quick way in to a talent not often talked about in the UK. Maybe get a copy alongside Vannier’s other new album, Roses Red Rouge, on which he sings, performs with some of the session musicians who worked on his Gainsbourg collaborations (as well as his experimental LP L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches) and also offers renditions of his solo work.