Review

Review

Revue Noir: Anthology Archive

A creative collaboration between Sam Rosenthal ? founder of landmark dark-pop band Black Tape for a Blue Girl ? and ?dark cabaret? singer Nicki Jaine, Revue Noir effectively captured the smoke-tinged, melancholy decadence that characterized the nightclubs of 1930s Berlin and augmented that feeling with 21st-century instrumentation. It sincerely transposed the fears, desires and despairs of that time & place into the chaotic uncertainty of the present, and achieved this (thankfully) without a hint of postmodern irony. The end result was a sexy, bruised sadness that, while far from cheerful, was still possessed with a playfully seductive spirit.

Although they quit performing as an official unit three years ago, Revue Noir?s handful of recorded works ? including a self-titled single ? continued to buzz about the web community, and Rosenthal was eager to release their recordings on CD through his own thriving label, Projekt Records. But with only a few completed studio tracks available, there would not have been enough new content for a full-length album. Fortunately, his hopes were ultimately rewarded last year after he uncovered a wealth of possibilities.

"I went back into the computer and found we had a lot of material laid down for rehearsing songs for live shows,? He explains in their press release. ?There were bits recorded in my studio, or MP3s Nicki sent me to rehearse to. In looking through all of that, I realized we did have the material for the album, all that was required was adding the touches to finish it up."

His efforts resulted in Anthology Archive, comprised of a dozen tracks combining the three original releases with the aforementioned rehearsals, demos and several live cuts. The new recordings include some intriguing covers of David Bowie?s Ziggy-era anthem ?Rock ?n? Roll Suicide,? Velvet Underground?s ?All Tomorrow?s Parties? and the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill classic ?Alabama Song? (which Bowie, The Doors and Marilyn Manson have all covered as well). We also get a few reinterpretations of classic Black Tape songs and some original tracks as well.

On most tracks, Rosenthal and Jaine share instrumental duties; a smoky bar-room piano is the main accompaniment, but additional contributions from several guest musicians on drums, violin and theremin combine to create a musical spectrum ranging from pop to jazz to classical to ambient-electro. The unifying thread for these diverse styles is Jaine?s emotionally intense vocal delivery, which keeps the tone anchored in a dreamy, wistful reverie. Her deep, sleepy-toned but emotionally intense voice comes a bit of a shock at first, considering her waifish, broken-doll appearance; I did not expect to hear a robust combination of Nina Simone, Marlene Dietrich and the Velvets? Nico coming from such a fragile-looking creature.

?The Gravediggers? kicks off the CD as most characteristic of the flamboyant, swaggering ?dark cabaret? style (think Dresden Dolls with stripped-down production), but the mood quickly turns bittersweet for the lonely, slow waltz ?Amsterdam? and the angry but eerie ?A Girl, A Smoke? ? all three carried over from the 2005 EP. The ?Released Tracks? portion of the album is rounded out by two new studio cuts: the aforementioned Bowie cover (which subs the original?s skewed optimism with a feeling of drunken resignation) and the reeling, broken-carousel ditty ?Sometimes, Sunshine.?

The ?Archive? section contains all the newly-unearthed material, which ranges from ghostly, floating renditions of Black Tape favorites like ?Halo Star? (from the same-titled album) and ?I Have No More Answers? (from Remnants of a Deeper Purity), live recordings including the Velvets and Brecht/Weill covers, a run-through of ?A Girl, A Smoke? and three original songs: the quirky ?Strange Little Show,? demented underwater lullaby ?Sunshine IV? and the disturbing ?She is the Madman,? which surprisingly veers a bit into Nine Inch Nails territory. Among these, the live tracks are the most memorable, effectively capturing the feel of the room and the mood of the evening; it?s no surprise, really, since the band built their cult reputation on the strength of their emotionally powerful live performances.

It?s a shame ? especially if the group is truly retired for good ? that there?s not a full live show captured on CD or DVD (at least none that I?m aware of), because it would be the next-best thing to experiencing the band in their purest form. For now, Anthology Archive will have to suffice? but that?s no small achievement, especially for those with a pitch-black romantic sensibility, or anyone who thinks raw emotional pain makes for sexy tunes.

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