I may not be a musician, but I assume that the masses of dedicated fans worldwide will agree with me when I say that aside from some tribute albums, most cover albums suck due to the fact that the artists who make them try to make their versions of the song sound too similar to the original. And that’s just the way that it’s mostly been for the last two decades. But recently we saw Cleveland proto-punkers Cobra Verde shoot out Copycat Killers, giving all of their old-time favorites their own glam touch which gave me a chance to be modestly optimistic for the fate of this concept in the near future. My optimism has paid off now that Nouvelle Vague has hit America with their self-titled debut, consisting of mostly French lounge/bossa nova arrangements of classic tunes from the new wave and post-punk era.
Nouvelle Vague, which when translated into English means “new wave,” is the conjunction of French producer Marc Collin of the down tempo ensemble Ollano and fellow native producer Olivier Libaux. On this disc, they utilize a plethora of a virtually unknown but talented chanteuses from all sides of the globe including Rio, Paris and New York.
Nouvelle Vague takes off with a saintly samba rendition of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that is infinitely sunnier that it was when Ian Curtis sang it. The smooth sound of waves crash in the background, sounding like the song was recorded at an outdoor bar on an oceanfront hacienda in Sao Paolo, every minute detail setting the mood: the voices of frolicking children, a lifeguard’s whistle. The song is followed by the rhumba treatment given to Depeche Modeï¿½s early hit “Just Canï¿½t Get Enough.” Even John Lydon’s post-Pistol days in Public Image Ltd. are hit by the South American gauntlet, as “This is Not a Love Song” has a more smooth flow to it.
The forgotten artists, such as the electronic based, avant-garde Frisco boys Tuxedomoon, are enshrined with a ponderous and subtle adaptation of “In a Manner of Speaking” that could be the eidetic image of Portishead if they ever make an album that steers in a tango direction. Hats are even tipped to the brief tenure of the artsy Scots of Josef K with a very frigid “Sorry for Laughing.”
What’s captivating about Nouvelle Vague is that while their takes on these songs sound nothing like the originals, the vibe of them is still omnipresent. The Clash’s sharply political ballad of UK ghetto race riots in “The Guns of Brixton” is given a loungy Parisian endowment, accompanied by a haunting hostility reminiscent of the work of Ennio Morricone. It is just as powerful today as it was in 1979 when it epitomized the class war and social upheaval that spread throughout England in the mid to late seventies. “Too Drunk to Fuck” may be a bit more jaunty than the Dead Kennedys’ variant but the debauchery-laden sexual energy (or lack thereof) is still ad hoc and like the original, it sounds better when the listener is shitfaced. Even as the Sisters of Mercy’s “Marian” turns out to be somewhat dim, Nouvelle Vague bounces back on track with XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel.”
What would any cover album be without throwing in a one hit wonder? Modern English’s “I’ll Melt with You” may be close but no cigar, but could serve rather useful for European advertising execs that desire to play it alongside a shot of a revolving double bacon cheeseburger in a commercial for all the Burger Kings that are popping up along the Champs-Elysees.
In America, it seems like globe-trotting pop acts are have been coming out of our own backyard in 2005, with the success of the self-titled debut from NYC’s Brazilian Girls and The Cosmic Game from the DC duo Thievery Corporation. But now it’s rather nice to see a very eclectic worldly mix from all corners of the globe on Nouvelle Vague. The girl from Ipanema has come a long way baby!
Richard Cheese – Lounge Against the Machine
Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood – Nancy and Lee