Such is the life cycle of the contemporary music industry that I can argue that French pop act Nouvelle Vague, at eight years old, is a throwback. But beyond that, their project of re-working new wave classics into bossa nova lounge pop is itself a throwback. On the occasion of the American drop of their 2009 live acoustic CD, I’ve again pondered this old chestnut — what is up with our obsession of of recycling old stuff and making it sound new?
The French are good at this modern take on retro — think of Air’s seventies funk groove updated to sound like the freshest thing in 1999. But the musicians of Nouvelle Vague kind of killed it with a genius gimmick — taking dark post-punk and robotic new wave — our generation’s classics — and delivering them like bossa nova songs. Bossa nova = nouvelle vague = new wave. Get it? In this redoing of old, they were early adopters of a trend that we’re currently drowning in — an old stuff renaissance in our culture, from Adele to Mad Men. The acoustic set of Nouvelle Vague is most interesting for the live audience participation, which is extensive. These songs are hits, and Nouvelle Vague’s stylized, retro cool versions tweaked them just enough to sound fresh.