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Nouvelle Vague

Nouvelle Vague

The problem with most postpunk music, for me anyway, is that it was utterly sexless -- a miasma of cold monotone vocals, frigid synths, gloomy lyrics, robotic bass lines and brittle, tinny and too-loud electronic drums...It was the aural equivalent of a cold shower, of little help to a schoolkid like me when it came to getting any seducing done. Hell, a girl who looked exactly like Molly Ringwald once took me to see Depeche Mode at Southern Star Amphitheater, and post-show there was, as Elvis C. would say, no action. To this day, I hold Depeche Mode's sterile music to blame for my lost chance at snogging a Molly Ringwald replica.

And that era's punk and ska revival wasn't much more conducive to nooky. Even pre-AIDS, it seemed like underground white youth culture had moved full-on away from the excesses of our parents' and older sibs' free-loving generation. Cock-rock was out, as was Donna Summer's orgasmic disco, replaced respectively by battalions of androgynous English glumsters and postmodern sexpots like Madonna, whose much-fabled libido always seemed to me to be more abstract than real. (As opposed to Prince, who was the truly sex-crazed exception to the rule.)

How to salvage these songs -- some of which are still quite good -- from this chastity-belt purgatory? Well, it's a tough one, but the case has been cracked. Fittingly enough, it took two of the sexiest nations on earth -- the French, using Brazilian bossa nova music -- to spice up these tunes via this cover record.

Nouvelle Vague finds Parisian multi-instrumentalists Marc Collins and Olivier Libaux collaborating with a bevy of breathy, pouty-voiced French, Brazilian and American chanteuses, and together they give the Reagan-era underground a (pardon the dated and crude term) "hot beef injection."

And what a lovely, tender alfresco shagging it is. Tempos slow to a lope, acoustic guitars replace cheesy synths, and the stiff rhythms become supple. Under the spell of Eloisa's vocals and the warm glow of the Franco-Brazilian sun, Depeche Mode's chirpy, jittery "Just Can't Get Enough" slowly dilates like a sun-kissed and fragrant magnolia blossom. Terminally sexless Joy Division sees their "Love Will Tear Us Apart" reupholstered in red velvet and black silk. Even the Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk to Fuck" is made alluring by squealing singer/femme fatale Camille, while singer Silja's version of Modern English's "I Melt with You" -- the biggest hit here and one of the only songs from that era that was even a little sexy to begin with -- comes across as positively carnal.

The vocals are very same-y -- it was a surprise to find out that they are the work of eight singers and not just one Astrud Gilberto sound-alike -- and the collection does go on a bit long for one sitting, but overall this makes for an exemplary cover record. Which is to say, a complete reimagining of the songs, right down to their essence.

I don't know if Messrs. Collins et Libaux were commenting on the sexlessness of the material by reworking these songs the way they did, but it feels like they were, and in doing so they have both created great new music while retaining what was best about these songs to begin with. And if you go out and buy it right now, you just might get your copy before this music starts turning up on hip car commercials and in every romantic comedy that comes out for the next few years.

 
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