Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux launched Nouvelle Vague upon the world two years ago with an eponymous album of bossa nova takes on punk. With innumerable solo projects for the various singers involved with the duo providing songwriting succour, Nouvelle Vague continued to be about cover versions.
And so it is with the second record, Bande a Part, which knowingly translates bossa nova to mean new wave. Or nouvelle vague. In their respective languages they all mean the same thing, of course. The extraordinary Camille, one of the first record’s vocalists, is too busy having her own success this time round, so three new chanteuses are called upon to provide breathy, sweet vocalisations to songs variously made famous by Echo and the Bunnymen, Blondie, New Order, Buzzcocks and assorted other early ’80s luminaries.
The result of these new collaborations is a superbly produced, sensual record fit for… coffee houses, jazz styled picnics and launching solo careers. As with The Puppini Sisters, Nouvelle Vague are superb at transcending influences into a genre entirely apart from where these songs began, of making them their own. And they’re uniformly lovely to listen to. Yazoo‘s Don’t Go, Bauhaus‘ Bella Lugosi’s Dead and Billy Idol‘s Dancing With Myself are amongst the sassy-sounding highlights.
Shambling accordion and assorted shakers bring a whole new light to Blondie’s Heart Of Glass, while The Cramps‘ Human Fly benefits from inspired vocals from Phoebe Tolmer, who makes the piece a seductive take on Jamaican roots reggae as played by French metropolitan people in a bistro. Tolmer is also responsible for vocals on Bela Lugosi’s Dead – and suggests with these performances that she’s a name to watch out for.
Heaven 17‘s Let Me Go turns into a soundtrack for a holiday in a sophisticated resort by the Med, a melding of vibraphone, strings and guitar grounding Silia‘s airy vocals that seem able to float away at any given moment. Less successful is a take on Visage‘s Fade To Grey that finishes up as, well, rather grey compared to the colourful textures preceding it. It is rescued only by a segueing into Blancmange‘s Waves, which marries accordion, steel drums, birdsong and waves that’s more Jean-Michel Jarre than is good for it.
But ultimately Nouvelle Vague’s downfall is not ability or material, but concept. What exactly is the point of it all? Yes, it’s pleasant, but by the end we want to hear some original material from what is obviously a superbly talented collection of musicians. We don’t get it – and are instead left with a compilation of sophisticated karaoke numbers for lounge fanatics. Camille, meanwhile, is showing the world that we shouldn’t discount solo careers for Nouvelle Vague’s individual parts. But if you want that relaxing and evocative soundtrack to a day at the beach on the Cote d’Azur, Nouvelle Vague are certainly able to supply it.