NOUVELLE VAGUE CO-FOUNDER RE-IMAGINES
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
On UNCOVERED QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
I initially heard Olivier Libaux’s CD Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age without knowing the source material. In fact, I didn’t know there was source material. I just instantly fell in love with these haunting, languid songs that sounded like refrains from the last call at the bar.
Then I discovered that all the songs were covers of tunes by Queens of the Stone Age. This hard-rocking alternative band has a sound that borders on Heavy Metal. Their latest CD …Like Clockwork was a number one album in early June.
You may not know Olivier Libaux. He’s one of the two men behind Nouvelle Vague, the French project specializing in covering punk and new wave songs in a style that hovers between bossa nova and lounge music. They get seductive dream pop singers, often female, to transport these songs into a dark room of recessed lighting and shadows.
For his new solo album, Libaux leaves most of the Bossa behind and focuses on a single band. Queens of the Stone Age may appear to be an unlikely source, but no more surprising than his previous choices of songs by The Saints, New Order and The Sex Pistols. You may love the source material or hate it, but however you feel about the originals, leave those opinions at the door. Olivier Libaux accomplishes a sublime re-imagining of this alt-metal band’s music on this new CD.
If you don’t know Queens of the Stone Age, just assume that all the originals sound like Rush on a bender with Black Sabbath. The tunes come from albums titled Era Vulgaris, Songs for the Deaf and Lullabies to Paralyze.
Libaux’s gift for finding the melodic nuance underneath the guitar aggression is evident on the first song, “River in the Road” sung by Rosemary Standley from a band called Moriarty. Backed by a portentous eight-chord piano sequence of doom coupled with a delayed single hit on a tambourine, Standley sings it like a wise woman who has seen too much of the world, sacrificing herself in your protection.
“Burn the Witch” is a gorgeous tune that belies its title with Libaux’s finger style guitar and gentle shakers underpinning Clare Manchon’s (from Clare & the Reasons) recasting of QOTSA’s song of hidden lies and coercion. Instead, she turns into a plea for help in troubled world. Likewise, Libaux turns “I Never Came” from a vicious song of rejection to a torch song of doom sung by Alela Diane.
There are two songs that keep me coming back. The first is “In My Head, sung by Susan Dillane. A story of unbridled love, she sings over a hallucinatory soundscape of electronic effects, tremulous stings and finger-style guitar, in a delirious love dream.
The other song is “Go with the Flow.” Easily one the most jubilant tracks on the album, it’s a rollicking circus of sound played over a bouncing groove, with vocals provided by Iceland’s Emiliana Torrini. The sound effects of a cheering audience are used as a musical element that amps-up the elation. A similar mood can be found in the deceptively happy “Medication,” a song about drugs that sounds more satisfied than it should be with its “Woo-hoo” chorus sung by Katherine Whalen.
For those who loved the Bossa Nova style of Nouvelle Vague, it shows up on “No One Knows” with vocals by one of the queens of cool singing, Inara George, from the band The Bird and the Bee. With a Brazilian groove draped in strings, it’s more “Girl from Ipanema” than “Iron Man.” George also returns in the more classically tinged “Hangin’ Tree.”
Cover tunes abound these days and entire cover albums aren’t unusual, but Olivier Libaux raises the bar with sensitive, largely introspective, and wholly seductive reinventions of Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age.
(Go to John Diliberto’s Spotify account for a playlist with all the original Queens of the Stone Age songs).
John Diliberto (((echoes)))
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