Queens of the Stone Age at Joe’s Pub: makes you smile, right? If you’re a New Yorker and you know that band, that’s worth at least half a laugh: QOTSA rocking the hell out of that sedate, shi-shi venue? That concert may not exactly be on the horizon, but you can see an entire set of QOTSA songs there when Nouvelle Vague mastermind Olivier Libaux brings his Uncovered QOTSA project there on Oct 15 at 10. And it’s a lot different than his regular band. Nouvelle Vague have a polarizing effect: some love them for their sarcastic loungey covers of 80s music, from punk to new wave; others dislike them because they lampoon iconic bands (Joy Division, for one), or because Libaux’ satire is so scattershot. In his world, everything from the best to the schlockiest is fair game for a spoof. Libaux has a whole album of QOTSA covers just out, and not only is it very funny, it’s also very revealing. Stripped to their core, these are really good songs, some of them maybe even better than the originals! Even if the sarcasm drips off them like fresh camembert.
There are a dozen songs on the album, delivered by a parade of female vocalists from genres across the spectrum, indie rock to jazz to straight-up goth music. Libaux’s M.O. here is to turn the tracks into goth-pop, which works as well as it does because QOTSA’s tunes draw a straight line back to Sabbath with their macabre chromatics. The opening track, River in the Road has Rosemary Standley’s nonchalantly warm vocals over a sway that hints at trip-hop – and it might be creepier than the QOTSA version. Katharine Whalen sings Medication as a catchy oldtime swing shuffle, as Jolie Holland might have arranged it. Clare Manchon (of Clare & the Reasons) does a deliciously blithe take of Burn the Witch, reinventing it as droll goth-pop that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Twilight.
Libaux’ Lynchian bossa arrangement of No One Knows, with Inara George on vocals, is the closest thing to Nouvelle Vague here. George also sings a lingering version of Hangin’ Tree. Susan Dillane’s faux-seductive goth delivery washes over carefree fingerpicked guitar and minor-key string synth on In My Head, while Skye sings 3/s and 7’s with hints of corporate “R&B” over funeral parlor organ and castanets: RZA might have done it this way.
Tangled Up in Plaid reaches for a Lynchian trip-hop swing with Gaby Moreno on the mic and, like a lot of the tracks here, manages to outdo the menace of the original despite itself. The comedic factor gets amped up when Ambrosia Parsley sings “I roll my bloodshot eyes,” on the devilishly droll cover of The Blood Is Love. Likewise, jazz chanteuse Youn Sun Nah’s deadpan “when I was a little boy” as Running Joke, done here as a mid-90s style Blonde Redhead-style waltz, gets underway. The Vegas-y space-pop version of Go with the Flow, with Emiliana Torrini on vocals, is as silly and over-the-top as Libaux gets here. The album winds up with Alela Diane singing a swaying, electric harpsichord-driven gothic cabaret take of I Never Came. Plenty of LOL moments here, especially if you know the source material (although some QOTSA fans might disagree vehemently). It’s also disquieting, something that Libaux seems to be going for, and if that’s the case he’s succeeded as mightily if a lot less loudly than the band that wrote these songs.