Only Lyrically

Tag: post-punk

On Nouvelle Vague


Album: Nouvelle Vague

Artist: Nouvelle Vague

Genre: jazz (bossa nova)

Release date: 2004

Copies last seen at: Music One (Quezon Avenue) and Fully Booked (Rockwell).

Track listing:

                   1.   Love Will Tear Us Apart

                   2.   I Just Can’t Get Enough

                   3.   In A Manner Of Speaking

                   4.  Guns Of Brixton

                   5.  This Is Not A Love Song

                   6.  Too Drunk To Fuck

                   7.  Marian

                   8.   Making Plans For Nigel

                   9.   A Forest

                 10.  I Melt With You

                 11. Teenage Kicks

                 12.  Psyche

                 13.  Friday Night Saturday Morning

What could be more rebellious than rendering guttural punk in sensuous bossa nova? This is the inversion of inversions, the counterpoint of counterpoints.

My brother, along with a cousin, both of them playing in punk bands, and both of them utterly stubborn and close-minded when it comes to punk song revivals, could not believe how this group, Nouvelle Vague, made a jazz song out of The Clash’s The Guns Of Brixton. Me neither. But Nouvelle Vague did just that. And decently.

No, more than decently, respectably.

This record is but a proof of how foolish are those who say that punk composers are dumb for limiting themselves in the usual three-chord harmony structure of a punk song. But a great punk song either pumps the blood up with its beat, or gives you a good case of last-song-syndrome with its infectious melody. Or both. Great beat, great melody. Punk requires it. Nouvelle Vague would have had nothing to work on if not for that.

Of the thirteen tracks, I have heard only four in their original form, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, I Melt With You by Modern English, I Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode, and Guns Of Brixton by The Clash.

Does one need to hear each track in original form to trust this record? No. I have not previously heard in its original form the song which prompted me to search for this record, In A Manner Of Speaking, yet I bought it. And at this point, with the song’s grip on me, I actually feel no urgency in hearing the original. But then again, that’s just me.

The point is, this record stands great in itself for being a well-rounded jazz output. The fact that it is a cover album of punk and post-punk songs turned into jazz, bossa nova, is simply its profound bonus for the apprehensive, or cynical, or unwitting listener.

The question still hangs, though, how was Nouvelle Vague able to do justice to the songs? From what I can only deduce, simple – by understanding each song, and re-interpreting it based on the song’s spirit. As hope and inspiration is what I Melt With You basically exudes through Modern English’s energetically and danceably upbeat conception, Nouvelle Vague achieved the same end by going the laid-back way, with whimsical xylophones and an echoing bass. Meanwhile, the fear and desperation in Joy Division’s own danceably upbeat Love Will Tear Us Apart was brought out by Nouvelle Vague not through the vocalist Eloisa’s internalization of the said emotions – on the contrary, her lazy, carefree interpretation would be what might cast the fear on the song’s supposed addressee. The Guns Of Brixton is sheer daring and attitude as originally sung with a nagging yet controlled angst by Paul Simonon. Nouvelle Vague, through Camille on vocals, went the teasing way to arrive at the same daring attitude. One could imagine Camille smirking as she half-drawls and half-whispers “no need for the Black Maria, goodbye to the Brixton sun”.

As for my obviously-overrated-by-this-time personal favorite In A Manner Of Speaking, apart from the painfully yearning take of Camille which accurately brought out the song’s lyrical irony, especially whenever she arrives at the chorus, and then with seeming surrender as she goes la-la-ta-ta-ta-ta… at the close, there is that line of brass (or was that strings?) that enters the song upon the second chorus, sustaining itself until the chorus’ next repetitions, underscoring the said yearning suggested by the vocals. I guess hearing the original is not required for one to see the depth of respect Nouvelle Vague has for the Martin Gore penned song. Only a respectful musician could work out such subtleties from its source material.

It’s as if Nouvelle Vague just made sure that they would always simply get to the song’s core, no matter what. And they did.

Just as Camille’s vocals would go in Too Drunk To Fuck. In the song, the persona needn’t – well… she already sounds as if she’s come.

Again, no matter how, seemingly. Same destination. Good music.


An Optional Prelude To A Review Of Nouvelle Vague

Didn’t I tell you you’re mine? You are mine. Now we go home.


* * *


Bossa nova to me used to be solely and strictly Antonio Carlos Jobim. I would want to include Astrud Gilberto but the only exposure I have to Gilberto is A Certain Sadness, oh, and Waters Of March which almost every jazz singer or instrumentalist has a version of. And I did not even get to listen to Jobim out of a curiosity for bossa nova. I got to him through Frank Sinatra. Just around that time when Sinatra just passed away, RPN 9 had a re-run of his 60s TV show, and in one of the episodes I saw, I was fortunate enough to catch that one where Ella Fitzgerald and Jobim guested. Jobim played acoustic guitar to a smoking Sinatra’s medley of Jobim’s compositions, namely Girl From Ipanema, I Concentrate On You, Change Partners, and Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars. It was so sexy. I never perceived of Sinatra as sexy until I heard him sing those songs. I got hooked instantly. When I learned that the two actually collaborated on an album, I sought the said record (Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim), and found it eventually.


The last two years actually saw a rise in the number of bossa nova acts and the release of their recordings locally. Former mainstream artists, say, Agot Isidro, even came up with bossa nova albums. And the record shelves are always stacked these days with bossa-fied versions of Bacharach and what-have-you.


Quite a what-have-you is what I got upon scoring a copy of Nouvelle Vague’s self-titled album. If before my perception of bossa nova is simply Brazilian jazz or 60s jazz or beach jazz, Nouvelle Vague turned it to what it should be – rebellion. And Nouvelle Vague is, as bossa nova is, rebellion.


Bossa nova came around during the late fifties as a new, hip form of jazz. It literally means ‘new wave’ or ‘new beat’ in Portuguese. Nouvelle Vague, as I would later learn, plays only punk and new wave/post-punk songs in bossa nova arrangements. A typically close-minded punk or new wave listener would probably raise eyebrows at the thought. I did not. Actually, having heard them now, I can’t wait for them to make covers of, say, I’m Not Down, or Brainstew/Jaded, or hey, Hey.


* * *


In the film A Mighty Heart by Michael Winterbottom, just right after the character of Mariane Pearl played by Angelina Jolie gave birth to her son Adam, just as she cradles the baby in her arms, the strains of a classical guitar can be heard. This plays on in the next scene, supposedly a few years having passed, where the mother is shown walking hand-in-hand with her boy in a European city street. The song blooms at this point, and the words, which speak of yearning, fittingly brings the film to its close –


            “ … In a manner of speaking, I just want to say

                  That I could never forget the way

                  You told me everything by saying nothing…


              … So in a manner of speaking, I just want to say

                  That just like you, I should find a way

                  To tell you everything by saying nothing.


                  Oh, give me the words, give me the words

                  That tell me nothing.

                  Give me the words, give me the words

                  That tell me everything …”


The song is In A Manner Of Speaking. It was written by Depeche Mode’s Martin L. Gore. Yes, the same guy who wrote the Depeche Mode classic Enjoy The Silence. Apparently, he seems to have quite a fix on silences.


In A Manner Of Speaking as played on the film was not performed by Tuxedomoon, though, the group which originally recorded it. The version in the film was by Nouvelle Vague.


* * *


The song was so haunting and heartbreaking I was immediately sorry that I could not wait for the film to be shown in the theatres – I had to be listening to it through my supposedly-stereo-sounding TV, as played off my Quiapo copy of the film. But if it had that effect on me despite the circumstances, what more had I been listening to it in a dark, cold, sonics-friendly theatre? I would be welling up tears, I bet. I had to wait for the song credits to be shown, then zoomed in the title of the song to see the performer: Nouvelle Vague. Consoling myself, I just made a commitment that from hereon, every time I go into a record store, I would always check the jazz section for a Nouvelle Vague record.


And then one night, after seeing a fashion show for the first time, and after I had to leave the venue quick because they were through playing Bjork and I couldn’t find the cocktails and I felt timid asking about it and I just basically suddenly felt out of place, I decided to go to the nearby mall, Rockwell, and check out the Fully Booked there. Freezing in my halter dress, sore in those killer heels, and carrying my Saturday book load, I climbed up to the mezzanine floor of the bookstore which housed the record section. The new releases shelf was right up front, and I quickly cussed as I saw a copy of Radiohead’s The Best Of, because I knew I couldn’t buy it, along with some other poetry books I saw downstairs. I looked further on, hoping not to see another goodie.


But there she was, the fair woman on the cover with her chin up, staring right at me, the words Nouvelle Vague right below her neck, so readable despite the purple and close-knit layout. She, along with a twin, was stacked right beside Massive Attack. I grabbed her immediately, held her close to my heart like a loony, and turned her over to see if indeed this was the Nouvelle Vague that sang In A Manner Of Speaking. It was! And along the titles in it were I Melt With You, and Love Will Tear Us Apart. Interesting, I thought. An even more interesting was that it cost only 350, a hundred lesser than Radiohead, but still I couldn’t afford it. All I really had was taxi money, and if I insisted on buying the disc, I would have to risk waiting for ages in Rockwell for a jeep. That could take me the whole night, all the way to dawn. If only I brought slippers, if only I didn’t eat in that coffee shop before the show…


So I laid her back down in her place. But not without saying you are mine you are mine you are mine


It always works, you see.


The next time I saw her was August 18, 2008. I was in really good spirits, having finished an important personal project. I wanted to reward myself. It felt to be the right time to look for Nouvelle Vague. And because I couldn’t afford taxi fare all the way to Fully Booked Rockwell, I had to decide to go to the nearest good record store which was merely one jeepney ride away, Music One at Quezon Avenue.


And there she was, erroneously classified under electronica when she should be in jazz (I first looked at the jazz section but did not find her, so good thing I remembered the disc as laid next to Massive Attack way back in Rockwell, I actually thought of looking for Nouvelle Vague’s right there at Music One in electronica, just in case).


So I approached her, took her again for good this time, and in my head said, as I cradled her, didn’t I tell you…

I had to be cut off quickly though, for as I embraced the disc while lining behind a few other people towards the counter, I saw the concerts section. And there was another lady there who I had to approach. Suzanne Vega Live In Montreux.

For 395. More than a week’s lunch. Caramel was in the listing.