Berlin: Information GER. LP 
- Mind Control
- Moderne Welt
- City Lights
- Talk Talk Video
- A Matter Of Time
- Middle Class Suicide
- Uncle Sam
- A Matter Of Time [Terri Nunn version]
- Overload [Terri Nunn version]
- A Matter Of Time [I.R.S. 7″ edit]
- French Reggae
Berlin had a tumultuous history before signing to Geffen Records and attaining considerable success in 1982. The initial lineup of the band [begin in 1978] would churn and eventually splinter in 1980 following the release of this album, only to reform a year later retaining just John Crawford and re-gaining original vocalist Terri Nunn. This disc, collects all of the released material from the first phase era of the band. Believe it or not, Toni Childs was the initial vocalist for the band but she didn’t like the band’s direction and stepped down as vocalist. Nevertheless, her stamp is all over this album since she co-wrote many of the songs.
The group acquired a new vocalist, Terri Nunn, who sang lead on the 1979 Renegade Records single of “A Matter Of Time” b/w “Overload.” She later left the group to give acting one more shot, leading to a third vocalist. Vocals on the group’s first album were performed by Virginia Macolino, though Nunn’s backing vocals were still retained for the two songs she had previously recorded, which simply got Macolino’s leads added to the masters.
The “Information” album was only released on Vinyl Records in Germany in 1980, though I.R.S. Records picked up a single option for “A Matter of Time,” which they released on a US 7” [with UK style spindle hole!] in addition to placing the song on their promo comp LP “I.R.S. Greatest Hits vol. 1.” For their release, the single was edited down from the LP track, shaving almost 0:30 from the original cut. “French Reggae,” a unique, instrumental B-side appeared only on this single. I had purchased the I.R.S. single of “A Matter Of TIme” from the used 7″ bin at Retro Records in 1983, and I found the Renegade pressing of the same,with Terri Nunn on lead vocals, a good decade later at a record show.
It was several years ago when I was first exploring the record collector rabbit hole that is Discogs.com and discovered the “Information” album and put it on my want list. Recently, I got an alert that had the record priced well on the shy side of $50 for a change, and better still; the seller was American! So shipment cost was a fraction of what every previous copy I’d seen for sale over the years was. I took the bait and I couldn’t have been happier.
This has been a year where my schedule for audio mastering has gotten the short shrift. The sad side effect of this has been the complete loss of any REVO remastering. I made a single CD this year as a gift for a friend of some specialist soundtrack material far outside of the purview of this blog, so it hadn’t been mentioned. I have moved to just record vinyl to hard drive without the painstaking remastering that sees me removing as much noise as possible with the lightest overall touch. Not to mention careful packaging, etc. This resulted in the premaster series that I have featured, while I had the time to do even just that. The premaster train ran out of steam several months ago and even that minimal project had to be abandoned. But a few weeks ago, I had a spare hour, early in the morning where I had no other responsibilities and I plopped the album on the turntable to premaster it to hard drive.
Imagine my joy when I was treated to an immaculate Teldec pressing with as little noise as I’ve ever heard remastering a record. That meant that I should press forward with a good, old fashioned REVO edition for the first time in far too long. A single Friday night session lasting less than three hours was enough to result in a disc to once more bear the REVO name. But what’s it like, you ask?
The material on “Information” is similar in sound to the period of their popularity; acoustic drums, guitars and synths together, but is vastly different in tone. The material is far more “New Wave” in orientation; at times resembling DEVO more than the band who would record “Sex [I’m A…].” Chris Velasco, who would later leave the band, contributes strong guitar work and the biggest difference between this album and the subsequent “Pleasure Victim” EP was that John Crawford, only wrote a small part of this material instead of dominating the writing as he did going forward.
A large pleasure of this album is that the lyrics are more socially than sexually concerned. The classic New Wave tropes of future shock, new technology, and rejection of mainstream values abound on this album for the first and last time for Berlin. The band was composed of Jo Julian on synths [who also produced], Dan Van Patten on drums, Chris Velasco on guitar, the familiar John Crawford on bass, and Virginia Macolino on vocals.
The album was released in 1980, but fairly reeks of 1979 New Wave! Macolino’s vocals are full of defiant attitude for the most part. Her singing on the opener “Mind Control” recalls the New Wave swoop of Lene Lovich that you can hear as the foundation that über-bimbo Dale Bozzio probably drew upon when Missing Persons got their mojo working the following year. Macolino’s punkette vocals are also abetted and matched with various forms of vocal effects and vocoding for that all important technological New Wave emphasis that was in the air like pollen at the time. The variety of vocal effects employed here is far beyond what was usually the norm for this time.
“Overload,” which is familiar to those with the Renegade Records pressing of “A Matter Of Time” is a great number with a stuttering drum pattern courtesy of Van Patten. For the most part, rhythm is via a traditional kit, well played and recorded. A smattering of synthetic percussion appears, but this album was largely made with beefy, rock drumming that gives it a heft that would be missing from synthpop groups a year or two down the road.
The following number, “City Nights” has great staccato guitar from Velasco that meshes most excellently with Julian’s synth work. This track, more than any other, hits the Ultravox mark that Crawford and the band [all Ultravox fans; Foxx era] were clearly aiming for. It manages to echo the values of “Systems Of Romance” and Conny Plank’s production thereof where guitars and synths doubled for each other for a unified, synthetic hybrid that was neither fish nor fowl, but more powerful than both. That it takes its cues from that approach while not cloning Ultravox’s sound, per se, is a huge plus. Perhaps it’s not surprising that after this album was recorded, keyboardist/producer Jo Julian found himself engineering for John Foxx.
Side two has the debut single, “A Matter Of Time,” recut with Macolino singing lead. It doesn’t stray far from the Teri Nunn original vocal. It’s still a great song from the pen of John Crawford. The underlying synth riffs evoke cinematic James Bond soundtrack music rather successfully. It’s followed by “Middle Class Suicide,” a less-than-subtle attack on the Hollywood mainstream; called “Zone-H” here. I’m assuming that’s SoCal slang in any case. The tracks leaps into DEVO-space [or is that Zappa space?] with its herky-jerky consistently shifting time signatures in part of the chorus.
The concluding “Uncle Sam” really does the DEVO thing rather well to the point that it recalls “Race Of Doom” which was not released for a year afterward. Hmmm… I wonder? The lyrics seem politically charged but on closer inspection resist interpretation. The album is well played and produced and if it seems like it was cut by a completely different band than the group that released “Pleasure Victim” two years later, that’s because it really was. This is a vastly different group to the one called Berlin afterward. And therein lies its charm. Charm being a quality which Berlin lacked once it had been reduced to Teri Nunn being a mouthpiece for John Crawford’s fatuous views on sex. Chris Velasco managed to stick around long enough to pen Berlin’s best song, the wonderful “Masquerade” for “Pleasure Victim” before splitting.
This CD has been appended with both versions of the “A Matter Of Time” 7″ single. The I.R.S. version has perhaps Berlin’s strangest recording as its B-side. It’s an instrumental called “French Reggae” that while decent, sounds like it could have been anybody. I imagine you could chalk this one up to the pervasive [commercial] influence of The Police. They were the only New Wave group besides The Cars and Blondie, shifting platinum units in Carter’s America.
After the “Information” album was recorded, the group split up. John Crawford started a band called Farenheit. He’d written some new songs and wanted to demo them, but they had no singer. The call went out to Nunn who was interested, and their manager thought enough of the demo to release it on his label, MAO Records, in 1981. “The Metro” b/w ”Tell Me Why” got the interest of Enigma Records, who signed them in 1982. Next Geffen Records came sniffing at the door when Enigma turned over and the rest, as they say, is history.
REVO + OUT – 2011