Just Can’t Get Enough 

Nouvelle Vague turn new wave outside in.

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Make no mistake: Nouvelle Vague is not a band. They might look the part, with singers, instruments and one-sheets, but the French collective could just as easily be confused as extras in a Jean-Luc Godard film, acting the part of chic, chain-smoking minstrels. Marc Collin, who founded the French collective with Olivier Libaux in 2004, hesitates to label his work as anything but a “project.” If it sounds pretentious, consider the source.

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In 1983, an impressionable teenage Collin popped his music-nerd cherry with a bevy of punk, post-punk and new-wave albums. His initial interest in offbeat cover art pushed him toward the addictive sounds of Dead Kennedys, Joy Division, Bauhaus and Depeche Mode. Later, the sirens of reggae and pop called on occasion, but nothing thrilled him quite like his first love.

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“It was a great period for music and creativity,” he says, phoning from the beach on a brief summer getaway. “There was very good production. That’s why everybody is now discovering it.”

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Collin never intended to further that (re)discovery. He produced Nouvelle Vague for a limited circle of likeminded fanatics, 30- to 40-year-olds looking for a trip down memory lane. The group’s eponymous debut was expected to sell maybe 10,000 copies to their target audience and even then they anticipated some backlash from loyalists upset that anyone would mess with a good thing. Instead, they turned on the next generation.

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“It was a big surprise because we recorded the album in Paris and after it was just signed on a very small label in England,” Collin says, adding that despite limited distribution Nouvelle Vague caught on among young, largely female, audiences. “They are very happy because it is not every day that people can listen to ‘Marian’ or ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ on the radio.”

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Which brings us back to the “project.” Nouvelle Vague could have been a cover band, but straightforward tribute seemed inappropriate for a genre so bent on reinvention. Their heroes turned tradition inside out'and so, Collin and Libaux turned outside in. They recruited half a dozen French and Brazilian female vocalists to perform bossa-nova covers of new-wave singles (oddly, “bossa nova” is “new wave” in Portuguese) they’d never heard, thereby encouraging fresh, sometimes surprising interpretations of the originals.

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The result is a collection of songs infused with renewed vitality, whether the track is pensive, sullen or playful. Singer/songwriter Camille’s take on “Too Drunk To F'k,” for example, replaces Jello Biafra’s manic cry with a flirty, inviting coo that seems to belie the tune’s title. Other numbers transform into children’s lullabies (“I Melt With You”), aural Valium (“Psyche,” “Sorry For Laughing,” “Friday Night, Saturday Morning”), and shaken-not-stirred seduction (“Making Plans for Nigel,” “A Forest”). Certain revisions fail miserably. “Guns of Brixton” makes you wish Joe Strummer would climb from the grave to shock it to life. For the most part, however, Nouvelle Vague is just too effortlessly cool to dismiss.

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Or is it? A handful of critics slammed Nouvelle Vague for recording what they consider to be an obvious marketing ploy. The cute factor, they note, has a shelf life of about six months. If that were true, Collin says, he would have made the shtick much more obvious. “We would have only chosen hits from the ’80s'Human League, The Police, etc.,” he says. “Our real audience and also certain people of the media can see we are very sincere.”

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Which could explain why Collin and Libaux retooled their concept for the new Bande a Part. The sophomore effort branches out from a strict bossa-nova format to include bits of reggae, jazz and pop elements. It’s also less reliant on the X chromosome, featuring male vocalist Gerard Toto on two tracks (“Heart of Glass,” “Don’t Go”). Collin also found it more difficult to select just the right material to cover.

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“I tried to choose songs that I really loved'songs that most inspired me for a good arrangement,” he says. “Try to imagine if the tracks have been recorded 10 or 20 years before. ‘Human Fly’ is really rockabilly-blues-punk, but if the track had been recorded in New Orleans in the ’50s or ’40s, what might happen? Or for ‘Killing Moon,’ I don’t understand all of the words, but have an idea for the arrangement. I think of a nursery rhyme and this voodoo feeling.”

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Cinematic voodoo, that is. Nouvelle Vague belongs on the big screen, which is where Collin’s day job takes him. He says that film scoring is not so different from arranging covers. His next project even involves a more direct link to Tinseltown, paying tribute to songs from classic ’80s movies including Rocky III and A View to a Kill. Expect Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards to make an appearance, but don’t hold your breath for Collin to open his mouth.

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“I am not a singer,” he says. “I see myself as the man in the shadows'someone just trying to imagine things. I need people to sing or act and bring them to light.”

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NOUVELLE VAGUE
nUrban Lounge
n241 S. 500 East
nSunday, Sept. 10
n9 p.m.24Tix.com

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