Monday, July 10, 2017

Song of the day

"All Cats Are Grey", by Nouvelle Vague.

"Nouvelle Vague". It's French for New Wave. You would have thought the idea of arranging post-punk songs in the style of sixties French pop-music forms would have had a fairly short life span. It comes across as a particularly nineties kind of conceit (as, indeed, the above album cover suggests), good for a couple of records (and a couple of laughs) before its creators wandered off to other pastures.

And yet here we are, and I am as surprised as you are to discover that Nouvelle Vague's fifth album was released at the tail end of 2016. (We missed the fourth one, from 2010, which was made up largely of covers of French new wave songs. Theoretically, that could by then have been of more interest than listening to them continue to mine songs that are probably better known by anyone who isn't actually French. I should probably check it out.)

So, has the law of diminishing returns kicked in on this new album? Obviously, the element of surprise is long gone. But they seem to have stuck resolutely with what they know best. It might be a gimmick, but it is not a gimmick without substance. Or heart. Okay, maybe Cocteau Twins isn't a perfect choice to lead off the album (their take on "Athol - Brose" might confirm any suspicions you may have had that Cocteau Twins were long on sonic artistry and atmosphere (and that otherworldly voice) and short on traditional song craft), but The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" works surprisingly well, and one imagines Brian Eno being tickled by the appearance of the slightly misnamed "No One Is Receiving", given how far adrift from post-punk and new wave "Before And After Science" sounded when it came out (Talking Heads anagram "King's Lead Hat" notwithstanding -- and is it a coincidence that this version sounds not entirely unlike the solo records David Byrne, with whom Eno would shortly be working, would one day release?).

But we are here today for their take on "All Cats Are Grey", a song from The Cure's never-bettered "Faith" album. As a general rule I prefer my favourites to be left well alone, but I can make exceptions, and this is one. The thing that jumps out at me is how closely this version is aligned to the quieter moments on Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool", and in particular "Present Tense". Which, if you think about it, makes some kind of intuitive sense, Radiohead and The Cure being bound together by a particularly English strain of miserablism, coupled with occasional outbreaks of extreme musical gorgeousness. It only took a group of French retro-curators to make the connection.