Love will Tear Us Apart

The fact that there exist talented singers young enough to be unaware of new wave and punk classics like "Love will Tear Us Apart" and "The Guns of Brixton" is simultaneously depressing and wonderful. That's probably what it took to produce an album so refreshingly lacking in reverence to the original versions. I never imagined I'd be tapping my foot to a bossa nova version of The Cure's "A Forest" but I'm told that these are the unexpected joys of moving into one's thirties.

Nouvelle Vague is made up of French musician-producer types Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux. The vocalists - though they sound as though they could all be the same woman - are actually several. All have gorgeous voices and none betray the knowing irony you expect from covers of such classics. What you get are true gems like the playful, saucy, deliriously fun version of "Too Drunk to Fuck" and sexy-sinister rendition of Killing Joke's "Psyche."

I'd like to think that, given a group of talented musicians, the original versions of these songs were so good that they'd be well nigh unfuckupable. Of course that's never the case, and while not all the songs on this album reach the dizzying heights of their Dead Kennedy's cover, it's still surprising to hear just how well these songs travel into jazz and pop genres without becoming the type of disposable novelties you find on a Dr Demento compendium. They also seem to stand up to a lot of repeated listening, which is doubly remarkable since cover songs (much less an album of them) are such difficult things to do well. Too dissimilar and they lack all the innocent and nostalgic pleasures we associate with their originals; too similar and we wonder what's the point?

The songs are well chosen and true to the intentions of Collin and Libaux who completely re-imagine the original versions. I certainly can't remember ever hearing a cover of "The Guns of Brixton" sung in the lighter-than-air, even adorable, style you find here. Who knows, though, perhaps this is what it would sound like if in some alternate universe Joe Strummer were a shy songwriter with a talent for mixing excellent martinis and smooth smooth jazz.

If you lucky enough to live in NYC, you can see them play Joe's pub in December.