Old Wave

I don’t think I’m adding to my enormous hipster cred by admitting that I’m rather taken with much of the work of the French band (or “project”) Nouvelle Vague, which takes new wave classics from the 1980s and covers them in styles ranging from bossa nova (“Nouvelle Vague” is itself a multilinguistic pun on “bossa nova” and “new wave,” the three terms being rough equivalents in French, Portuguese, and English) to, on the new album, “‘unplugged’ reggae,” mostly sung by alluring French or Portuguese indie chanteuses. It all sounds horribly pretentious, but it actually works better than anyone has right to expect.

The first album, released in the U.S. last year, came to my attention when I heard it playing over the PA in a local bookstore. How can you go wrong with a French girl purring along to an acoustic arrangement of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”? Obviously you can’t. I wasn’t familiar with “Guns” at the time, in fact, though I recognized XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel” a song or two later. The eponymously titled first album succeeds in part because the quality of the sources — the Clash, XTC, the Dead Kennedys, Joy Division, the Undertones — but it’s not all down to that. Even the covers of the Cure, Depeche Mode (Vince Clarke-era, at that), and the Sisters of Mercy sound surprisingly good. The take on “This Is Not a Love Song” is far and away better than the PiL original. I’d almost say the same thing about the cover of the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks” (even if it earns me a visit from the furious ghost of John Peel) and several of the other tracks, for that matter.

The new album, “Bande a Part,” covers more mainstream material and misses the mark several times. The world doesn’t need any more covers of U2 songs, no more than it needs any more originals. A reggae arrangement doesn’t bring out much that’s new in Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” The more obscure selections on the new disc, meanwhile, tend to come from the more electro end of new wave: ESG, Heaven 17, Visage. When a relatively aggressive track like “Guns of Brixton” or “Too Drunk to F—” is translated into bossa nova, the result is often melodic and accessible without being twee. When songs that were originally radio friendly to begin with get the treatment, though, the result is perilously close to schmaltz. That said, the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love?” works, as do the two New Order covers on various formats of the album (“Confusion” and “Blue Monday” — to my surprise the latter is the better of the two, despite how overexposed the original is), and the interpretations of songs by two other one-time Factory Records acts, the Wake and A Certain Ratio, are also solid. The limited edition of the album has a very good take on the Smiths’ “Sweet and Tender Hooligan” as well. And whether or not it’s any good, Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” done as a near showtune certainly is a revelation — between that and getting covered on Paul Anka’s last album, Mr. Idol may be in the midst of a revival he’ll soon want to forget.

A few sample songs from both albums are on-line here, including “Guns of Brixton.” Or if all this Gallicism makes you feel unpatriotic — the Washington, D.C. date of Nouvelle Vague’s North American tour is going to be at the French Embassy in September — you can always visit the Right Brothers website instead and listen to samples from their new album, including “That’s Why We’re Here,” “Freedom Is Not Free,” “Stand Up,” and the all-American classic “Bush Was Right.”

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5 thoughts on “Old Wave

  1. Steve Sailer September 3, 2006 / 11:55 pm

    Back in the late 1970s there was a Muzak orchestral arrangement of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” that was quite good.

  2. Keith418 September 8, 2006 / 6:17 pm

    The best singer left Nouvelle Vague to start a solo career. This is why the second CD is so disappointing.

  3. Scott Lahti September 12, 2006 / 4:39 am

    O wot luck: flipping helplessly across the DirecTV horizon a while back, I flew up on a lark to channel 550 – IFC, the Independent Film Channel – and landed one minute into PUNK: ATTITUDE, veteran Brit producer and Clash/Big Audio Dynamite veteran Don Letts’ documentary on rock’s permanent insurrection. The gang’s all there, beginning with Jerry Lee and Chuck in the 50s, through NUGGETS-style garage-rockers from the mid-60s, the Velvet Underground (footage from its onetime chanteuse Nico [Christa Paffgen] – Warhol’s downtown-ingenue entry in the apostolic progression from Marlene Dietrich to Ute Lemper – soundbites from its robust Welshman John Cale, and of course Lou Reed), Detroit’s own MC5 and John Sinclair, he of the White Panther Party, Iggy Pop and the Stooges (whose “Lust for Life” has featured for years in Royal Caribbean cruise adverts – with “the liquor and drugs” refrain so obviously doctored in favor of the title phrase), David Johansen and his New York Dolls, Henry Rollins and his Black Flag, Siouxie Sioux and her Banshees, assorted Ramones and their transcendent “Blitzkrieg Bop” (itself played on a recent telecom advert; remember to clip well that final “p” when you sing it, pal), CBGBs, David Byrne and his Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Debbie Harry and her Blondie, Jello Biafra and his Dead Kennedys, indie-film auteur Jim Jarmusch, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Kurt Cobain and his Nirvana…for Yank starters…

    Then there’s the Anarchy wot broke the UK when the Ramones did likewise stateside in my generation’s Spirit of ’76, with Johnny, Sid, Steve and their erotic handguns – er, Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer (1952 – 2002; the George Orwell of rock), Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon, aka The Clash, idols of Rude Boys like me worldwide (“the only band that matters” per their early PR)…

    Less well known, and, in my view, near-tragically so, the mid-70s NUGGETS-like flashes-in-the-band featured in the film in passing and collected on one of the most endearing compilations I’ve ever had the pleasure of adopting from the cutout tables, DIY: TEENAGE KICKS: UK POP I (1976 – 79), a galaxy justly beloved of the late and sainted BBC DJ John Peel (the Undertones’ track lending its title was known to find Peel pulled to the motorway-shoulder in tears): in addition to such postpunk veterans as Nick Lowe, Squeeze, and XTC, the disc features such dont-miss acts as, well, ‘ere you go:

    Track Listings
    1. So It Goes – Nick Lowe
    2. Do Anything You Wanna Do – Eddie & the Hot Rods
    3. Marie Provost – Nick Lowe
    4. Whole Wide World – Wreckless Eric
    5. Dancing the Night Away – Motors
    6. 2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson Band
    7. Television Generation – Kursaal Flyers
    8. Take Me, I’m Yours – Squeeze
    9. Another Girl, Another Planet – The Only Ones
    10. This Is Pop? – XTC
    11. Brickfield Nights – The Boys
    12. Airport – Motors
    13. Jilted John – Jilted John
    14. Top of the Pops – The Rezillos
    15. Ghosts of Princes in Towers – The Rich Kids
    16. Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
    17. Look Back in Love (Not in Anger) – The Yachts
    18. Girl I Know (Precis of a Friend) – The Pleasers
    19. Into the Valley – The Skids

    Best fiver I ever risked: I’d call that a bargain – the best I ever had, to quote I don’t know Who: and better with each spin…

    Turns out, per an interview with Captain Sensible, “that Chrissie Hynde had joined the Damned briefly and wanted to change the name to Mike Hunt’s Honorable Discharge.” Who knew? Gives a whole new twist to “Damned if you do…”, and “Out, out, damned spot”…

    If your musical past finds you reading this far, and you get IFC on cable or satellite keep an eye out for repeats.

    I can do without a lot of the adolescent “rebel” screw-you-old-man fetishistic “philosophizing” on the part of onscreen talking-head greybeards who ought to know better, but when it comes to a lot of the music itself and such apostles of real family-of-man decency as Strummer, to quote from Big Audio Dynamite’s “Beyond the Pale”: “These are the people/Of my family”. Or, better still, Wordsworth on the French Revolution: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very Heaven.”

    And beg, borrow, or steel your self toward viewing RUDE BOY: you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Joe Strummer in a darkened studio, huffing and puffing to backing tracks only he can hear through headphones, as he shout-sputters in place with Road Runner legs his endearing way through his vocals for “All the Young Punks”…or a curly raven-mopped Mick Jones doing likewise through “Stay Free” – burning cig in hand fore and aft…I’m getting eye-mist in the morning just thinking about it: take my Wordworth above – and have a drink on me…

  4. DSL. May 18, 2012 / 5:56 pm

    “I’d almost say the same thing about the cover of the Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ (even if it earns me a visit from the furious ghost of John Peel)”

    They just played it on BBC 6 … a real sit-up-and-take-notice moment.

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