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Nouvelle Vague an exquisite mixture of genres, eras

Matthew Solarski | Thursday, January 20, 2005

Some concepts are born in heaven. Indeed, whoever had the brilliant idea of marrying the French chanteuse with the iconic songs of punk, new wave and goth must have a pair of feathery wings tucked beneath his or her tweed coat. Enter Nouvelle Vague, which has done just that. French for “new wave” and most popularly associated with the seminal filmmaking of Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and others in the early 1960s, the Nouvelle Vague in question here consists of modern-day producers Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux.These two Frenchmen, having selected a batch of songs by several of the defining artists of punk, new wave and goth (henceforth collectively referred to as simply “new wave”), set about recruiting France’s finest voices to sing them. Collin and Libaux, both gifted multi-instrumentalists, crafted their own largely-acoustic arrangements of the new wave classics, taking cues from jazz, lounge music and another “new wave” – bossa nova. Then the vocalists step in, and the rest plays out like a dream. Nouvelle Vague does, however, seek to transcend mere kitsch by having the songs sung in their original English.New wave’s household names are present and accounted for: The Cure, Joy Division, The Clash and Depeche Mode all experience rebirth in shimmery lounge-pop renditions. Other acts Nouvelle Vague tackles include XTC, Tuxedomoon, The Undertones, P.I.L. and The Specials. The record’s crowning moment, however, would have to be its centerpiece, a cover of a song by the Dead Kennedys. Here, singer Camille attempts to fill the sloppy shoes of Jello Biafra, several times nearly erupting into a fit of giggles. By the end Camille is uttering exclamations in her native French, and the whole track carries this same endearing spontaneity. Camille is in fact the belle of this ball, draping her warm, evocative vocals over four of the album’s 13 tracks, including a cover of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” that in many ways rivals the original. Also exceptional is Marina Celeste’s try at “A Forest,” originally performed by The Cure.One quirk in particular allows Nouvelle Vague to work its wonder: Collin and Libaux, when enlisting their femme fatales, took special care to match singers and songs on the basis of unfamiliarity. What results are unique and often-striking interpretations of classic songs, vaguely recognizable and yet imbued with a new freshness. On the cover of Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” singer Silja transforms the famous bridge “the future is open wide” into a sort of sultry come-on, slowing the words and slurring her speech coquettishly. The chanteuse Camille, once again, adds a new dimension of melancholy to “Making Plans For Nigel” by XTC with her dynamic vocals. Collin and Libaux underscore several of the songs with ambient recordings, lending these tracks a satisfying sense of atmosphere. With Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” they incorporate the purr of waves and the quiet cackle of children playing to compliment the song’s balmy, carefree arrangement. The cover of Killing Joke’s “Psyche,” featuring the vocals of Sir Alice, is embellished by the eerie din of insects and other creatures of the night.A literal wave is of course never actually new; it instead brings the same waters that have splashed the shoreline time and time before. In much the same way, Nouvelle Vague has culled the existing musical waters for the very best bits and carried them deftly to a white-sanded shore to caress the airwaves.