Nouvelle Vague with Michael Holt at the Rivoli (334 Queen West), Friday (September 16). $12. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
Nouvelle Vague is French for new wave and also apparently for bossa nova, which means new wave in Portuguese. This is kind of a loose translation, since "wave" is actually "onda" in Portuguese, while bossa means "hump or bump" and some say "trend," neither of which are similar or actually found in the Portuguese dictionary, but whatever.
Nouvelle Vague are two French guys who take old new wave tunes and turn them into bossa novas topped by breathy-voiced little chanteuses.
It's an old trick. Remember when Jaymz Bee put out that awesome lounge record of Canadian Rock Classics? That was, like, 10 years ago. Lounge music was a big gimmick in the mid-90s, often produced by lesser-known artists, which is why we all know we've heard lounge versions of Smells Like Teen Spirit but can't remember where.
But Nouvelle Vague did not go in this direction because of the lounge scene in France, explains Marc Collin, half of the multi-intrumentalist duo that is Nouvelle Vague -- the other half is Olivier Libaux -- but because 80s music is close to their hearts.
"I am 37 and he (Libeaux) is 41 so we were very young at the time, especially for me," he explains in a heavy French accent. "It was, you know, a fantastic period where every week there was a fantastic album and at this time we never bought old records only new ones and so, it was a passion and now still in our hearts."
"Today many bands are emulating the sound of the 80s, so I thought it was a good idea to do something from the 80s in a different way."
The new album includes covers of Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division), Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode), A Forest (the Cure), Melt With You (Modern English) and the decidedly less new wave offerings of Guns Of Brixton (did anyone ever refer to the Clash as new wave?) and the Dead Kennedys' Too Drunk To Fuck.
I wonder if this is what was popular in France during that period.
"When I was young and cool I imagined that listening to Joy Division made me part of a sect or something," says Collin. "We would go see a band like the Cure and there were 10,000 people in the audience in Paris, but Joy Division was never well known in France.
"Now that we're travelling the world we discover that some songs are very well known in some countries and not at all in others. For example, in the USA, Melt With You is a huge hit. In France it's totally unknown."
And I have to admit the tunes on the album are pretty fantastic. The eight singers have those Brigitte Bardot slash Astrid Gilberto lilts and sexy little accents. It all feels very done and formulaic, but the arrangements are fetching and fun. My favourite track, even though I've never heard the song before, is In A Manner Of Speaking by Tuxedomoon.
"Actually," Collin says excitedly, "We just got an e-mail from the guy who wrote that song asking if he can join us at our San Francisco show. That's cool. Also, a journalist told us he had spoken to Martin Gore from Depeche Mode about our song and Gore said he loved it. And Mick Jones from the Clash is also really happy."
Interestingly, seven of the eight ladies who recorded the tunes had never heard the originals.
"But it turned out to be a good thing. We worked on this project with only our memories of the songs. We didn't listen to the originals before working on them. We just played the guitar chords, took the lyrics from the Internet and sang the melody. And that's how we showed the songs to the singer. That way she could do anything she wanted to do.
"Camille [one of the chanteuses], for example, wasn't at all afraid because she didn't know Joy Division or the Clash. I think it gave her a total freedom. And she still has never listened to the originals."