I don’t listen to any real hippie music, but I’ve been enjoying Tom Petty’s cover of “Something In the Air” lately. It must be nice to look forward to revolution. On the other hand, I think I know some right-wingers who can relate to the lyrics “hand out the arms and ammo / we’re gonna blast our way through here.”
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.”
Nobody in his or her right mind would follow my lead in recreational pursuits, but for the voyeuristic among you here's what I'm devoting my downtime this weekend to…
Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists. The latest from Bill Kauffman. We've lined up a very apt reviewer for TAC, and I'll be taking part in another project involving the book in a few weeks. But right now I'm reading Kauffman's tributes to Dorothy Day, Gene McCarthy, and other decentralist heroes just for the pleasure of it. (An excerpt from the book runs in the new TAC, by the way, which should find its way to bookstores and subscribers' mailboxes in a week or so.)
Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism. A short new collection of essays from the University of Chicago by a Straussian writing about Strauss. In light of recent controversies, perhaps I ought to review it.
"Rise & Shine" and "Sick & Tired," by the Cardigans, a band I'd have dismissed for their irritatingly catchy one hit from a decade ago except, that I'd recently heard their later single "Erase/Rewind" and quite liked it. Better yet are the two tracks I bought from iTunes yesterday from their first album, Emmerdale. I should have checked out a few selections from the band's back catalog earlier, since I've always liked their producer Tore Johansson's work on St. Etienne's Good Humor. "Rise & Shine" and "Sick & Tired" are prime jangle-pop specimens — the latter somewhat the better for having stronger lyrics and an undercurrent of melancholy.
I've never seen "Easy Rider," but I think I'll have to now that I've read what Bill Kauffman has to say about it —
… the best radicals are reactionaries at heart. They despise the official order, be it state capitalism, militarism, communism, or what have you, but wish not merely to remove the malignancy but to replace it with an organic system, rooted in human nature and human affection…. They are not mere rebels without a cause. Instead, they value the importance of "doin' your own thing in your own time," as those two deeply American filimmakers Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda (our Kansas-Nebraska Act-ors) said in their druggy paean to the pioneer virtues, Easy Rider.
I don't really have to convince you that Easy Rider is a reactionary picture, do I? The only characters depicted as unqualifiably virtuous are the homesteading faimly, living on their own acreage…. The hippies and the small-town southerners gathered in the diner; the small farmers and shaggy communards: they were on the same side. The side of liberty, of locally based community, of independence from from the war machine, the welfare state, the breaucratic prison whose wardens were McNamara, Rockefeller, Bundy…
Young people frequently ask me what the next big thing is going to be. Should they be listening to Spiggy Topes? Maybe Zeigeist from Sweden? Plausibly; but Malcolm McLaren has tipped Cansei de Ser Sexy (“Bored of Being Sexy” in Portuguese) of Sao Paolo, Brazil, which sounds about right, particularly “Music is My Hot Hot Sex.” “This Month, Day 10” is also excellent.
by James Brown. From Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. It’s too funky in here.
Readers idly curious to know what I’m reading are due some satisfaction. At the moment, Anthony Barrett’s Caligula: The Corruption of Power and Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons are under way. I’ll post a few thoughts on the latter in a couple of days. Galleys of Nir Rosen’s In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq have also come into my hands — a first-rate journalistic account of the Iraq insurgency’s beginnings.
iTunes yielded up “100,000 Fireflies” by the Magnetic Fields just a minute ago, which will serve as an admirable music recommendation for the day.
Despite what the date stamp on this post might tell you, it’s Monday as I type and the song for the day is “These Are the Sad Songs” by (the London) Suede.
Suede were much better than their Britpop contemporaries Oasis and Blur; which is to say, Suede were actually good.
John Profumo, former British secretary of war and center of a sex-and-spies scandal in the early ’60s, has died. He was cut from a cloth very different from that of today’s politicians, as the New York Times obit remarks:
…after his fall, he withdrew permanently from public office, refused to discuss the scandal that ruined him as a politician and, instead, turned to charitable work among the poor in the hardscrabble East End of London. He achieved a degree of rehabilitation in 1975 when he was honored as a Commander, Order of the British Empire.
Unlike more modern politicians, he refrained from publishing memoirs or even rebutting allegations about his association with Christine Keeler, a prostitute he met at an upscale party.
I haven’t seen “Scandal,” the 1989 film based on the Profumo affair, but I do know Dusty Springfield’s “Nothing Has Been Proved,” from its soundtrack, which summarizes the story in about 4 minutes and 40 seconds. But if you’re going to dabble in ’80s Dusty (beyond “What Have I Done to Deserve This,” that is), the melancholically exuberant “In Private” is the tune I’d recommend, and that’ll serve as the song of the day.