In 2008 Nouvelle Vague co-founder/musician Marc Collin did a side-project album called Hollywood, Mon Amour. The album featured songs from ’80’s movies covered Nouvelle Vague style, meaning that they were the sort of covers that are often drastically different than the original versions of the song, though care is taken when making these interpretations because Collin and co-founder/musician Olivier Libaux only mean to flatter the artists who did the original versions of the songs. Not many artists can twist and turn a song into a dramatically different cover and gain the applause of the artist who originally did the song. But Nouvelle Vague has always had the applause of the artists they’ve covered and the same held true for Collin’s Hollywood, Mon Amour.
It should come as no surprise that Libaux recently decided to do a side-project of his own. The idea he settled on was to do an album consisting entirely of Queens of the Stone Age covers. This was a brave decision, in a sense, because fans of his work might not like Queens of the Stone Age and may have no interest in hearing an album of covers of their songs. Then again, Libaux has given the songs the Nouvelle Vague treatment, transforming the songs in many different ways, ultimately turning them into shiny gems that any Nouvelle Vague fan should like even if they don’t like Queens of the Stone Age.
It just so happens that I am a big fan of Queens of the Stone Age, so the idea of a whole album of covers of their songs produced by Olivier Libaux more than intrigued me. I was dying to hear this one. And it did not disappoint.
The interpretations of the songs on this album are generally all very mellow if not entirely dreamy. Acoustic guitars feature largely here. What I quite like about the album is that even the songs that have a lot of instruments have room to breathe. You can focus on one instrument and hear it completely. None of the songs are mixed the way most of today’s records are with the levels of every instrument basically as loud as possible. I hate it when recordings are blaring like that, sounding muddled. I much prefer the amazing production of people like Libaux and Collin. These guys should be producing the next album by The Shins or, perhaps, Morcheeba. And Morcheeba wouldn’t be much of a stretch because their vocalist, Skye, sang on Hollywood, Mon Amour and she sings “3’s And 7’s” here on Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age. It’s one of the album’s best songs, Skye singing it like Nina Simone would have, her voice smooth as silk and rather sultry as well. It’s an enchanting song and I dare to say it’s better than the original. The variety of instruments here, which include all sorts of percussion and strings, make it something trippy and delightful.
Another highlight is “Medication,” featuring vocals by Katharine Whalen. The melody of the original version of the song remains fairly intact in this rendition, but it’s much quieter than the original. The music makes me think this is what it would sound like if The Doors covered this song. The bass guitar and organ are exquisite here.
Two of the best songs on the album are performed by Inara George of The Bird & The Bee and The Living Sisters. She does a slow, jazzy version of “No One Knows” that works on a whole new level because the way she sings it you get the feeling that she does actually know something that nobody else knows, like she’s keeping a secret and taunting you about it. The other song she does is “Hangin’ Tree,” which is done with acoustic guitar and faint strings. In this case, Inara injects beautiful melancholy into the song, rendering it much moodier than the original. (Don’t get me wrong — I love the original versions of these songs. But these renditions fascinate me and give me a whole new way to look at the songs.)
You can’t have an album of Queens of the Stone Age covers without “In My Head” and the version here does not disappoint. Susan Dillane handles the vocals here and really drives the message of the original version of the song home. It’s essentially a song about not being able to stop thinking about the person you’re in love with. Both the original and this cover convey how crazy that can make you feel. With this version we get it from a female perspective, which I find very interesting. Also, this version is entirely hypnotic and a tad bit intoxicating, too, so maybe it makes you feel the lyrics just a bit more than the original.
If there’s one other song this album had to have it is “Go With The Flow” and the always amazing Emiliana Torrini sings this one. It’s very different from the original, which had Dave Ghrol’s heavy drumming driving it. Instead, this version is driven by jazz style percussion and instruments I don’t even know the names of. “Falling in and out of love / something sweet to throw away,” Emiliana sings, her voice gorgeous but ever so slightly scornful. The whole point is that the singer doesn’t want to go with the flow. The singer wants something new, to throw away the old. But he’s trying to convince himself he can still go with the flow. The song ends with the lyric, “Do you believe it in your head?” With Emiliana’s version, it’s already obvious that she doesn’t believe it. She wants change, new things.
I also have to give kudos to one more song. Alela Diane delivers a fantastic rendition of “I Never Came” accompanied primarily by piano. This version of the song is ever so slightly slower but just as intense as the original version of the song and Alela sounds wonderful.
I suppose Queens of the Stone Age fans should listen to samples before they buy this unless they’re already Nouvelle Vague fans and would know what to expect accordingly. But, obviously, this is a must for any Nouvelle Vague fans, even if they don’t like Queens of the Stone Age at all.