wears the trousers magazine

nouvelle vague: 3 (2009)
June 19, 2009, 9:30 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , , ,


Nouvelle Vague
3 •••½

The best ideas are often the most unlikely. French bossa nova versions of angry punk classics sung by tender-in-years homegrown chanteuses might be a difficult pitch to make to a cynical record company boss, but Nouvelle Vague have been proving the play-it-safers wrong for half a decade now. Third album 3 sees producers/arrangers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux wave goodbye to bossa nova and reggae arrangements and say hello to American country and bluegrass inspired numbers. To add to the mix, this time round they’ve drafted in some of the original vocalists/songwriters connected to the songs to provide backing vocals.

Always the most enchanting feature of the Nouvelle Vague recipe was the innocence of the singers and their lack of previous knowledge of the songs they were given – no Nouvelle Vague reworking could be accused of sounding like something that a tribute act would serve up cold. This contrast between original and cover is most starkly illustrated on 3’s version of Gary Numan’s ‘Metal‘. A warm laidback country swing replaces the cold electronics of the original, with the vocal provided by Eloisia, a young Brazilian girl who knew nothing of Numan nor the song, and can barely speak English. The resulting vocal is tentative, accented to the point of impenetrability, and utterly charming, revealing an endearing uncertainty in the lyrics.

The difference between Plastic Bertrand’s silly ‘Ça Plane Pour Moi’ and the equally nonsensical Nouvelle Vague version on the other hand is not so great, but it’s still a pretty joyful stomp. This contrast in outcomes is also part of the point; Nouvelle Vague have never set out to deliberately conjure up difference for the sake of it. It simply emerges, more often than not out of the vocal. The jazzy flutter of their ‘God Save The Queen’ robs the song of all its Cockney urchin anger, and hands those anti-monarchist English lyrics to a young female product of Republican France. Yet the result doesn’t jar, and when she sings “there is no future in England’s dreaming”, its insouciance makes it all the more damning.

The album opens with a deliciously naughty duet between Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore and Nouvelle Vague veteran Melanie Pain on that classic ’80s paean to bedroom high-jinks, ‘Master & Servant’. Pain’s delicious voice and Françoise Hardy influences interplay with the colder attempt at domination of Gore’s familiar holler, his position in the mix robbing him of assertiveness and suggesting this relationship may not be quite all it seems. A beautiful take on Soft Cell‘s ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ wipes clean the horrific memory of David Gray’s bland, shaky-headed brutalisation of one of pop music’s most spine-tingling moments, and Terry Hall’s familiar deadpan finds a perfect French foil on a jaunty ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’, the Hall-penned Go-Go’s classic.

The adding of old stagers to the mix, however, is not an unqualified success as Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch puts in a surprisingly disappointing appearance on ‘All My Colours’. Instead, the real high points are the unexpected moments. Like the homely country camp of ‘Road To Nowhere’, stripping the original of its art-rock attire and shamelessly applying the rhinestones; elsewhere, the happy handclaps the Violent Femmes’ ‘Blister In The Sun’ turn the song into something that’s unselfconsciously lovely .

The Nouvelle Vague concept works when it probably really shouldn’t and the presence on this album of real musical luminaries speaks volumes for Collin and Libaux’s increasing powers of attraction. But a clear head is needed in future to keep the over-keen cooks from spoiling what remains an undoubtedly tasty French broth.

Martyn Clayton
UK release date: 29/06/09; www.myspace.com/nouvellevague


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