Maybe there are some people whose tastes are still offended by Nouvelle Vague. People who will never find Joy Division channeled through a barefoot Rio chanteuse palatable. The idea of a band based in France conceiving Latin-flavored covers of “New-Wave” and “Post-Punk” songs is, perhaps, not something that everyone in this world needs inserted into his or her otherwise normal thought patterns. However, if these people do exist I am yet to make their acquaintance. Everyone I have spoken to about Nouvelle Vague, even if not overcome by them, has some positive things to say—to be sure, often with a chuckle and a wistful smile—about them. The reason for this is, I think, that Nouvelle Vague is founded on a very good idea, one which is in near perfect sync with its time.
So, let’s accept that in the past five years an exceptional amount of music has been influenced to varying degrees by music which came out between, let’s say, 1978 and 1985. Close enough. The ubiquity of bands channeling this era has made any number of people recall more fondly the music of their youth and has caused a perhaps larger segment of music listeners to dig eagerly into a generation of music that they did not experience first hand. And while many bands that they find, Joy Division for example, sound suitably contemporary, an infinite number of others sound dated, either quaintly or obnoxiously. In the latter case, it takes a sort of conscious act of the imagination to hear the songs as the fresh and influential entities that they once were, swollen as the recordings are with the particular varieties of eighties excess. By that act of the imagination a song’s general value as a well-written, clever, emotional song, can be separated from the miasmatic recording in which it has been entombed.
What this has to do with Nouvelle Vogue—Mark Collin, one of the masterminds behind the band, said their initial choice of material reflected their ambition “to make people understand how beautiful these songs were.” The method they devised to accomplish this—the idea that they fixed on—was to make the old (new wave, etc…) new by making it even older. They transplanted the songs of the late seventies and early eighties to the Brazil of the 1960s originally, and now, on Bande A Part to various locales in the Caribbean. The recordings they produce are new in the way they make the old seem older and inventive in very modern ways, at the same time staying true to their impressions of the songs-in-themselves. This is the form that they have chosen for their reassessments and enhancements of the songs which they chose to perform.
Any reservations I had about this method were allayed when I first heard their rendition of “Too Drunk Too Fuck,” full as it is of histrionic female screeching and voluble, if slightly subterranean, concupiscence. These are things that I have been historically drawn to. Not only did I perceive and appreciate the idea behind the music (conceptually appreciate it), but I liked the songs that they chose as well, and more than that what they did with them, with their arrangements, the best of which reveal an assiduous and sensitive attention to detail. That the singers they had chosen to sing the songs often had never heard them before seemed to me perfect and allowed for fuller reification of the songs in themselves.
All of that said, Bande a Part is, for me, a slight disappointment. I am skeptical of this disappointment, not in the least because I find myself most attracted to those songs which I am familiar with and which I already hold in fond regard. “The Killing Moon” has been given a slightly nightmarish treatment, shrouding Melanie Pain’s vocals in a mysterious voodoo sway, forming a sirenish whirlpool, enveloping. She is also the voice on the sultry slide of New Order’s “Confusion” and the rumbling voluptuary plaint that is her reading of “Ever Fallen In Love,” two more of the album’s crests. “Heart of Glass,” given a Jamaican Mento character, and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” another number drowned in skulls and fatalistic curses, are also superb and stand out against Bande A Part‘s more lackluster moments.
I don’t want to say that this is a bad album— and I won’t because it isn’t—but it does contain more missteps than their debut album. With the exception of “Pride,” the album’s most watery low-point, I don’t think I am critical of what Nouvelle Vague has done with the songs, so much as I am a bit underwhelmed by the songs chosen. But perhaps that only attests to the bands method. In addition to revealing the beauty of the songs chosen, as they did on their first album, they have shown they are able to reveal mediocrity as well.