Review Summary: Bossa Nova covers of Indie Songs that occasionaly hits the mark.
The name Nouvelle Vogue means "new wave" in French, which is apt as it refers to both their choice of songs and their re-imagining of them in a bossa-nova style, throw in their ‘Frenchness’ and that sense of 60’s new wave cult French cinema that they seem to convey and they could not really have been comfortably named anything else. This eponymous 2004 debut opens with Nouvelle Vagues version of the Joy Division song ‘Love will tear us apart’, and it’s lovely, opening as it does with a gentle acoustic guitar and smooth accented vocals, but whatever darkness was there in the original as been quite thoroughly removed. If I were sat in a café and Joy Division started playing I would sit up and take notice, but this version would not cause me to look up from my coffee and paper, nor is it meant to, as it would be playing quite perfectly in its right place, as would much of the album. It is, for me, background music, quite lovely, funny at times, but it flatters to deceive as it is all lacking any real substance.
Take their gentle rendition of P.I.L’s ‘(This is not a) love song’ as an example, it is a terrible choice for a Bossa-Nova makeover, where Lydon’s repetitive caterwauls make it quite clear that it really isn’t a Love Song, whereas the Nouvelle Vogue version suggests that, actually, it is very much a love song and comes with a cup of cocoa and a cuddle. The rendition of Dead Kennedys Too Drunk To F*** is enormous fun, and placed in a French indie film it would probably be really good, but in isolation it’s a little bit out of place. With the Sisters OF Mercy and ‘Marian’ the rendition does work, though again lacking the dark soul of the original, it translates itself into something ethereal, it is a wispy thing, a little haunting perhaps, unlike the Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’ which they should have just left alone.
The album closes with ‘Wishing (I had a photograph of you)’, originally by ‘A Flock of Seagulls’ which has a bit of oomph about it, and this stripped down version works really well. If I didn’t know the original, then yes, pretty good. The stand out track for me was ‘Guns of Brixton’, which has a lazy feel, nonchalant even, which is somehow just right for, “You can crush us/You can bruise us/But you'll have to answer to/Oh, Guns of Brixton”, and with the distant whistle at the end the atmosphere is perfect.
It may seem that I have a downer on this album, I don’t, I do rather like it, but only in its right setting, it is, after all, a collection of indie songs transformed into an easy listening style that does not always lend itself well. Sunday morning, a cup of coffee and newspaper, a croissant, or in the background when friends are around for dinner, great, anywhere else and it loses its charm.
On a side note, the cover is fabulous!