The original post-punk era of the late '70s/early '80s may have been the most challenging and pessimistic time in the history of underground rock, which is why some aging misanthropes sneered when post-punk revivalists from the Faint to the Fever turned its forlorn sounds into the latest fad. Here the sneer is returned with a leer as the voguish post-punk cocktail is given a final twist of lime by Nouvelle Vague, a pair of French producers who hired sultry female singers (six French, one Brazilian, and one New Yorker) to render bossa nova renditions of decades-old classics that the singers had never heard in their young lives.
If the project is all about high concept -- "Nouvelle Vague" translates both as "new wave" and "bossa nova" -- it's also more consistently entertaining and illuminating than, say, The Grey Album. For all its soft sweetness, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is no less inscrutable and fatalistic than Joy Division's original, and other numbers reveal that their classic status is deserved as much for their solid tunesmithing as their sour shoegazing. "I Melt With You" is a no-brainer, but who knew the Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk to Fuck" was so catchy? Or that Gallic wit could be so winning?