Monday, October 2, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1680: Alphaville

I was so convinced I’d already reviewed this album I’d already removed it from my Walkman. I guess I’ve just known it for so long now it feels familiar. In any case, I got it re-loaded and finding myself with an extra day off, gave it a couple of listens today.

Disc 1680 is…Forever Young

Artist: Alphaville

Year of Release: 1984

What’s up with the Cover?  Giant Head alert! In this case the giant head appears to have encountered Medusa.

How I Came To Know It: This was a record in my wife’s music collection when we met. She’s known it dating all the way back when it was first released, when she bought it on vinyl after hearing a few of the songs on an American radio station. When we met, she introduced it to me on CD and it has been our home rotation ever since.

Only last month she gave the vinyl copy away to our friend, Chris. So her gift of this band just keeps on giving!

How It Stacks Up: This is our only Alphaville record, so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 4 stars

Eighties synth-pop is not usually my thing, but there is no denying greatness and on “Forever Young” that is exactly what Alphaville deliver.

This music is driven by beat, bass and synthesizer which makes for a lot of bops, beeps and thumps. I was bracing for this to feel clunky and emotionally disconnected but that is not at all what happened. Alphaville use these tools like master craftsmen, weaving it all together to create fascinating syncopation delivered concurrently with compelling pop melodies.

Are there weird percussion sounds banging away here and there? Fake handclaps and faux horn sections? You bet there are, and plenty of it. There are even some real string instruments that left me guessing what was false and what was real (I liked it both ways). Regardless of how they make the notes, every beat, bang and artificial bit of brass fits intricately together to make beautiful music.

The record begins with the ultra-Gothic “A Victory of Love” an initially moody piece of music that slowly increases in tempo and intensity. The tune is perfectly paces, building its intensity until finally, at the melody’s highest point, it ends. It made me want a cigarette.

Later the band twirls its techno-groove around from the very beginning. “Big in Japan” has a structure that just makes you want to prance and spin in the lights of a big city. Currents of Japanese musical structures collide with German New Wave to create something that is both mysterious and eminently danceable. The song has a darkness about the lyrics, but there is a wild celebration of dark excess laced through it. It is a song for partying a bit too late, but making sure you’re home before the sun rises, to ensure the mystery of it all is maintained under cover of night.

Fallen Angel” has the band returning to a Gothic element. With David Bowie style vocals, and well-timed hand claps the song has a “devil-may-care” quality. This makes sense, since the lyrics imply the song’s subject is either a vampire, a succubus or maybe that Scarlett Johansson sex alien from that “Under the Skin” movie.

The album’s clear hit is the title track, which feels like one of those songs everyone knows, but no one knows who does the original. Well, it is Alphaville, and the song is brilliant. Filled with a poignant call for youth and the way its promise can hold back a dark and uncertain world. Against it all, this song finds time to explore the fears of nuclear disaster:

“Let's dance in style, let's dance for a while
Heaven can wait, we're only watching the skies
Hoping for the best but expecting the worst
Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?”

A German band in 1984 would have the most “ground zero” perspective of this experience, and Alphaville nail it; a combination of dread and the willingness to look past that dread and find a flicker of hope at two minutes to midnight. Inspiration and despair in equal measure.

In short, “Forever Young” was a welcome way to spend the middle part of my day, looking out at the rainy world and enjoying unfamiliar and artificial sounds, made human and beautiful through art.

Best tracks: A Victory of Love, Big in Japan, Forever Young, Fallen Angel, The Jet Set

No comments: