It’s been 12 years since French production duo Marc Collins and Olivier Libaux first partnered with a handful of vocalists under the name of Nouvelle Vague for a self-titled album of delightful bossa nova interpretations of such new wave, punk, and post-punk classics as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Modern English’s “I Melt with You,” and the Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk to Fuck,” which was unexpectedly charming in its loungey guise. After several albums of the same concept, an album of French covers, and Collins’ side project, Bristol, which gives a ’60s treatment to ’90s trip hop, Nouvelle Vague returns with I Could Be Happy (Kwaidan Records), named for the Altered Images song covered on the album, which also includes four original tracks.
On the title track, the saccharine synth of the original is replaced with a cheery whistle and a gentle island vibe, giving the song a less dated sound and turning it into a thoughtful pop song. Brian Eno’s “No One Is Receiving” also gets a beachy makeover, while “Athol-Brose” is stripped of the Cocteau Twins’ atmospherics, while maintaining the melancholy beauty of the original.
Nouvelle Vague is often best when reinterpreting songs in unexpected ways, as with “Love Comes in Spurts,” which intersperses coolly spoken lyrics with the chorus sweetly sung, a fun contrast to the Richard Hell and the Vodoids’ punk urgency. However, the band’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Sedated” sounds halting and in fact too sedated. The original frenetic pace of the Ramones original seems necessary for the song to work. Meanwhile, The Cure’s “All Cats Are Grey,” admittedly a sleepy song to begin with, also seems a little lackluster.
However, Nouvelle Vague fares better on its original material: two acoustic ballads, the pretty “Maladroit” and the haunting “Algo Familiar,” and the upbeat “Loneliness” and “La Pluie Et Les Beau Temps.” While it’s good to have a new batch of reinterpreted songs from Nouvelle Vague, the original tracks reveal that the band is much more than a cover band.