Earlier this year, I heard the Nouvelle Vague version of "Guns Of Brixton" on the excellent How To Kill The DJ Part 2 compilation from Optimo. At the time, I didn't know much about the group, other than that they had pulled off a wonderful bossa nova-esque cover of a pretty awesome Clash song and had somehow at the same time not disrespected the original. As it turns out, that track was part of a larger project in which two producers and two singers covered a wide range of famous tracks with a bossa nova style. The result is Nouvelle Vague, and while it works just about perfectly at times, it's kind of a trainwreck at others.
With a release that starts with a cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," I was expecting the worst, but in all honesty the group does a pretty good reworking of the track, and like their version of "Guns Of Brixton" it's neither hamfisted or sacreligious. When they bop into the upbeat shake of Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough," it sounds a little more straightforward and plain, but they again pull off lovely reworkings of both "In A Manner Of Speaking" (Tuxedomoon) and the aforementioned "Guns Of Brixton" that sound perfectly understated and nearly perfectly cut for the style of music they create.
Unfortunately, the people involved with the project decided that subtlety wasn't always the way to go, and the cover of the Dead Kennedy's "Too Drunk To Fuck" starts out fairly well but then completely falls off the rails as the vocals reach levels of loud histronics that are more annoying than anything else. From there out, the hits fortunately outweigh the misses, and the collective pulls off gems with a woozy cover of XTC's "Making Plans For Nigel," The Cure's "A Forest," and a super-subdued re-imagining of "Friday Night Saturday Morning" by The Specials.
All in all, Nouvelle Vague is an interesting concept that's pulled off extremely well about one-third of the time, pretty good about one-third of the time, and rather weakly on the rest. As with most compilations in which tracks are given dramatic reworkings, it's the times that they stray the most from the source material where they're the most successful. Based on the rest of their taste on the aforementioned mix, I should have known that the Optimo fellas would choose one of the best tracks on the entire release for their mix, but there's quite a bit more to enjoy where "Guns Of Brixton" came from, and you can always hit the skip button. Throw it on along with some Senor Coconut at a party sometime and watch as people find themselves singing along while not quite understanding why...