Feb 212024

Nouvelle Vague is back with a new collection titled Should I Stay or Should I Go? I’m going to hesitate in answering that question, as there is the one more demanding, about how this lot are still going. No offense intended, mind; back in the day, Nouvelle Vague’s bossa nova revisiting of punk and new wave songs was really something to behold, with both the novelty and the application well worthy of praise and merit. But now? I know a version has been touring, but I hadn’t appreciated they were still marketing something new, or, more to the point, new to them. So, is this a soft sophisticated samba swirl through the song cycles of Eilish and Swift, Sheeran and whoever else the young people adore? Ummmm, nope. This is a further trawl through the hallowed dusty halls of the last century. Or, more to the point, hoping the audiences who loved them near two decades ago will still love them now, and are still listening to their tired old record collections.

I needed to check out the rationale, hastening to the requisite website. The fact that one of the originators, Olivier Libaux, is now the late Olivier Libaux should be enough confirm him spinning gently, counterclockwise, in his grave. I am presuming his then co-conspirator Marc Collin is still at the helm, as the agenda is seemingly unchanged, setting up a set of chanteuses unfamiliar with the originals, ironically perhaps all the more available as time flits by. So why does it seem now to, largely, pall, where it once delighted? Follow me…..

Opening up with muted cocktail party chatter, as they have previously, Should I Stay moves into a bland samba through “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend.” Given that the Specials’ original bordered on pastiche, a ska-easy listening hybrid, it seems a sort of pointless exercise, all irony excised by the simplification. And dilution of intent. Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” sounds sad and tired, overly louche and languid–which, granted, was perhaps the intent.

To be fair, much better is the Big Spender style of “You Spin Me Around,” the OTT structure fooling me quite as to what the song was, at least until the chorus. It gave me my first smile of the record. It also provoked the realization that this involves a full studio band, rather than the near-stripped-back electronica of the earlier albums. Sadly, “Only You” is vile, the backing lumpen and plodding. Bauhaus’s “She’s In Parties” benefits from being possibly a little less well known, and thus delivers a neat sense of contrast, coming over all “In Every Dream Home A Heartache,” if without the denouement, a brooding malevolence of no little appeal.

Similarly, ABC’s “The Look Of Love,” put through a masher with a taste of Timmy Thomas’s “Why Can’t We Live Together,” carries itself off with aplomb, the enunciation of loooook especially enjoyable. Indeed, with it offering a palpable bridge from the 1982 hit to a hint of Burt Bacharach’s song of the same name, a hit for Dusty Springfield, in 1967, it is really quite clever. But the curious reggae lilt of “Shout” is distinctly odd, with clumsy horns tacked on to what sounds a lift from Costello’s “Watching The Detectives.” The cheery refrain then sounds forced, but I guess it may depend on whether you have any time for the original rendition.

The caramba/Speedy Gonzalez inflections around the title track seem another misstep, and as it speeds up, all the rolled rrrrs and the hombres bravos intoning in the background make it frankly embarrassing. And don’t get me started on the mariachi trumpet. Praise be, the yé-yé morph of “Rebel Yell” is one that hits the spot. It infuses the hoary old warhorse with some quirky new blood, and is put together well, with what sounds likes vibes, possibly electric piano, giving several degrees of added charm. The contrast between the lyrics and the delivery is adept and unself-conscious. On a brief roll of two in a row, the cover of “Breakfast” wisely makes no attempt to even hint at Billy Mackenzie’s grand guignol, playing it relatively straight, if “Bond movie sound” can be construed as straight. The tone here is applicably diva-esque, as in grandes dames like Shirley Bassey, where singing was arguably a secondary requirement to any actual performance.

Did someone say Bond? “Girls On Film” tries to perpetuate that mood, and almost manages to deliver, let down by an overly mannered vocal. The jury is still out on whether this is one of the worse songs here or one of the better ones.  At which juncture hopes for “Rapture” were limited, but, lo and behold, it’s a belter, a reconstructed deconstruction that damn near nails it. The letdown here comes from the dire spoken section. Spoken section, emphasis, not a rap, never a rap, with Debbie Harry’s one of the few situations where a rap actually works in rock-based music. It just gets messier and messier, losing that initial frisson of listening pleasure. I liked the trombone solo, mind.

You’d think the Smiths would convert with ease to Bossa lite. Let’s face it, the originals almost were, however Marr and co buffed up the arrangements, with Morrissey’s croon not a million miles from Antonio Carlos Jobim, if a little less polished. Yes? But no, as “This Charming Man,” replete with a crowing rooster (no, me neither) plunges into cocktail-level Latin jazz. Or mocktail, even, as a skinful might help assimilate.

I think there’s a good EP’s worth of material here, maybe just a maxi-single. But if I’ve got to let you know if you should cool it or blow, well, let’s just say there’s no indecision bugging me here. None at all.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go tracklisting:

1. What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend (The Specials cover)
2. People Are People (Depeche Mode cover)
3. You Spin Me Around (Dead Or Alive cover)
4. Only You (Yazoo cover)
5. She’s In Parties (Bauhaus cover)
6. The Look Of Love (ABC cover)
7. Shout (Tears For Fears cover)
8. Should I Stay Or Should I Go? (The Clash cover)
9. Rebel Yell (Billy Idol cover)
10. Breakfast (The Associates cover)
11. Girls On Film (Duran Duran cover)
12. Rapture (Blondie cover)
13. This Charming Man (The Smiths cover)

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  One Response to “Review: Nouvelle Vague’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’”

Comments (1)
  1. Looking at your profile on At the Barrier I’d say you may well be in possession of a tired old record collection yourself. Wow, us poor old folks! Ouch! How boring! Or is your collection constantly refreshed with the latest shape-throwing, hip folk, electronica thing? Music, as you well know is subjective. Me, I’d rather listen to a Little Richard 78, a 70s punk 45, 50s Exotica, or yes, the new Nouvelle Vague album, than the Heisk album you reviewed on At the Barrier. Not my cup of tea at all and my review of that album would be on a par with this one – it deserves more than one and a half stars. Should I stay or should I go? I’m staying with Nouvelle Vague, but you’re welcome to leave. I’m pretty sure the Ms & Mlles of Nouvelle Vague will carry on regardless.

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