This is my second foray into Neue Deutsche Welle, aka New German Wave, that early 1980s blend of post-punk, new wave, and electronic music that burst onto the scene in West Germany like a fireball and almost as quickly burned itself out. Previously I wrote about Extrabreit; this time around it’s Ideal. The band’s singer Annette Humpe was previously in Neonbabies before co-founding Ideal in 1980s, and as a result there was an odd situation in which both bands recorded and released a song she wrote, “Blaue Augen”, in 1980, and for Ideal it was their highest charting single during their brief three-year existence.
There’s a frenetic quality to the opening track “Berlin”, one that carries through much of Ideal with the notable exception of the sludgy, viscous “Telephathe”. Even when the pace is slower, the songs have a certain edge to them, not quite a desperation but more of an insistence. The B side has some great jams, “Luxus” and “Rote Liebe” being among the album’s high points, alongside the dub-infused “Da Leg Ich Mich Doch Lieber Hin”. Ideal is a touch dated, but c’mon, this record is 40 years old, so it’s surprising just how good it sounds.
Secession, a mid-1980s Scottish synthpop band, may in an odd way be best known for the work two of its non-original members did after the band broke up. You see, bassist J.L. Seenan and drummer Charlie Kelly joined Secession in time to be part of the lineup for the band’s only LP, 1987s A Dark Enchantment, and following Secession’s demise the pair joined a duo that Charlie’s brother played in. That duo later benefitted from having a very famous fan, one who covered their songs and mentioned them in interviews. That fan was a guy named Kurt Cobain, and the band was The Vaselines.
So what about A Dark Enchantment? Well, one would expect the overall mood was being set by the slightly gloomy synth-goth of the instrumental intro “Eventide”, but that’s followed by a classic 1980s hopeful struggle-song, the synth and bass line driven “Promise” (I’ve worked so hard to get this far / Don’t try to take it from me), a number that would be right at home in any one of a few dozen classic 1980s flicks. But then… then “Sneakyville”. What is happening here? The deep male vocals offset by the distant female harmony take everything in a completely different direction, more of a dark dancefloor banger. That was unexpected. And then… horns? “Winifred”, what are you doing to me?? It’s almost like A Dark Enchantment is a label comp, but there’s just enough of a thread to hold it all together as part of one cohesive work. “Ocean Blue”? Female vocal dream pop. The brief instrumental “Reprise (Love Lies Bleeding)”? A fleeting moment of emotion, 61 seconds of soft interlude. You just never know what’s waiting for you on the next song.
It’s not accurate or fair to call A Flock of Seagulls one-hit wonders. They had two Top 20 albums in the US, three singles that made it into the Top 30, and won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the song “D.N.A.” “Space Age Love Song” is a legit jam. And yet despite all of this the band is primarily remembered today for two things. The hit single “I Ran (So Far Away)” and Mike Score’s haircut.
This faux one-hit wonder status seems like something that blossomed in the early 1980s, probably because MTV contributed to the accelerating emergence of actual one-hit wonders and changed the way we consumed music. There seems to be a lot of nostalgia for this period (which could be me simply projecting my own sense of nostalgia onto the rest of you) and an endless supply of compilations of the era’s songs. And if you’re doing an early 80s new wave comp there are a handful of obligatory songs that almost have to be included, their mythological places in the period’s musical landscape becoming separated from reality and in fact making their own reality. “I Ran (So Far Away)” is one of those songs. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that in 1982 we all just sat around listening to it along with “I Melt With You” and “Tainted Love” on a continuous loop. Add the song to things like the GTA Vice City TV commercials and a reference to the band in Pulp Fiction (You, Flock of Seagulls. Know why we’re here?) and it takes on a life of its own. But in fact it only made it to #9 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1982. It’s perhaps more ubiquitous today than it was when it was charting.
There are some good jams on A Flock of Seagulls. “Modern Love Is Automatic” is classic new way, synthy and a bit dark with a certain insistent quality to it and could have easily been released as a single. “Space Age Love Song” is rock solid, and of course you can’t deny the brilliance of “I Ran (So Far Away)” which catches your attention immediately, the first three seconds compelling you to continue listening. It’s definitely a fun album and one that while a bit dated still holds up a pretty well.
The collection of freebies that recently came my way included the first three albums by A Flock of Seagulls, so I gave the others a listen as well. Listen (1983) is a bit more chill and less poppy than A Flock of Seagulls, things moving into a more post-punk (“Nightmares”) and goth (“Transfer Affection”) realm. The Story of a Young Heart (1984) opens with the very new romantic title track, and “European (I Wish I Was)” feels like it could have been a hit. The B side opener “Remember David” is an uptempo rocker, a pleasant surprise and my favorite track on the record.
I picked this up at Berlin’s Bis Auf Messer Records on our recent visit to Germany. I can’t find a lot of info about Schwund online, and almost nothing at all in English. I’ve seen them described as punk, post-punk, and experimental… based on what I hear on Technik Und Gefühl it’s more toward the experimental side of the spectrum, perhaps even going as far as to use the dreaded term avant-garde. The songs have structure, but also tend to wander around, sometimes into unexpected territory. The constant is the use of synths in retro and unusual ways – “Binär-Indianer” makes you feel like some kind of demented circus just pulled into town, while I wouldn’t be surprised if the underlying rhythm on “Gut Gefunden” was actually one of the presets that was on the old cheap Casio keyboard I owned in the 80s.
It appears the vinyl version of Technik Und Gefühl clocks in around 49 minutes and is limited to 200 copies. However, there is also an even more limited cassette version (100 copies) that contains an additional 32 minutes of music. Copies of each are available on the band’s Bandcamp page HERE. If you only have time to check out a few tracks I recommend starting with “Taxi”, which is perhaps a bit less avant-garde than the rest of the album while also being its most fully realized song.
Google searches reveal very little about Blue China other than that they were Swiss and the title track for this five-song 12″ is a Beatles cover (and I didn’t need the interwebs to figure that last part out). What’s happening on this record? It’s like a lo-fi proto-Smashing Pumpkins kind of thing, but super proto.
I found it in a box labelled “New Wave / Goth / Darkwave” sitting on the floor just inside the door of Berlin’s Sound Vinyl Store and it seemed interesting enough. And it is. They style is more on the experimental side of new wave and the beats have a machine-like quality to them. Overall the tracks feel more like demos than completed work, great sketches that just need to be filled out a bit.