Bubbi Morthens is one of the the longest lasting, most successful, and almost certainly most prolific musicians in Iceland, though very few people from the rest of the world have ever heard of him. He was in one of the country’s first and most popular punk bands, Utangarðsmenn, circa 1979-81, before moving on to form a pivotal new wave band called Egó that released three important LPs between 1981 and 1984. With the demise of Egó, Bubbi reunited with one-time Utangarðsmenn guitarist Mike Pollock to put out an album under the name Das Kapital in 1984.
Now, take a look at this cover. After reading the above intro and looking at the band’s one and only album, what genre do you think would best define Das Kapital? Punk… maybe no wave… hey, maybe even heavy metal. No. This album has violins on some tracks. And harmonicas. And saxophone. It’s certainly a rock album, sometimes moving towards some rockabilly, but one thing it is not is hard.
The cover actual makes some sense if you know the reference to the album’s title, Lili Marlene. “Lili Marlene” was a poem written by a German soldier during World War I later published in 1937, then turned into a very popular love song in 1938. While the girl on the cover is perhaps a bit young to be the woman the soldier dreams of in “Lily Marlene,” the inclusion of World War I general and later post-war president of Germany Paul von Hindenburg, juxtaposed with the skeletons (the war dead) and the youthful soldiers give one pause… especially given that the band is named after the famous Communist manifesto Das Kapital. The band includes their own cover of “Lili Marlene” as the opening track of side B, one that starts slow and soulful before breaking out into the most punk sounding song on the album. Morthens also sneaks a song in English onto that side called “Fallen Angels,” which showcases a bit of his punk chops.
This was a pick-up from Lucky Records in Reykjavik when we went to Iceland Airwaves last year. I’d had a copy in my hand the year prior but didn’t pull the trigger, and I kicked myself for a year while I waited to go back. This copy is a punch out, so with the hole in the cover and a few small scratches, so I actually got it for a decent price and in the long run it was probably worth the wait. Lili Marlene is actually available online as a digital download for around $12, but I don’t really know that it would appeal to a wide audience. Perhaps the big selling point here is Das Kapital’s role in the progression of Morthens’ long and illustrious career in Icelandic popular music, a sort of way-point as he transitioned form punk to new wave then into a more straight forward style of rock (and some of his later recordings seemed to have moved more towards bluesy rock), so if you’re an Icelandic music geek (like me) it’s a must-have. Otherwise… well… take a listen and decide for yourself.