Record Review: Alphaville – So80s [part 2]

Soundcolours ‎| GER | 2xCD| 2014 | SC0344

[continued from previous post]

Yesterday we had discussed the 12″ mixes of disc 1. Disc 2 was salted with all of the non-LP B-sides from the singles from the first three albums. There were a lot of pleasing B-sides of high quality to be had here. A few of these I had on vinyl, but as I had never heard the singles form the first album, there were a lot of fine songs here.

I was particularly struck by the loosely related series “The Nelson Highrise.” The very Ballardian framework allowed the band to develop less commercial ideas that were nonetheless interesting and valid experiments. Some would say, experiments that were more interesting than many tracks that made their albums! While I have no disdain for the albums, a track like “The Nelson Highrise: Sector One – The Elevator” can’t help but be more intriguing! In the case of that song, the pulsating bass synths, clear, expansive mix, and sound effects really draw the listener into the song.

The “sequel” was “The Nelson Highrise: Sector Two – The Mirror.” was a more conventional composition and sounded like it would have been right at home on the “Afternoons In Utopia” album. Perhaps moreso than any of these other B-sides could have fit on on their respective albums of their period. I did own this song on the “Dance With Me” 12″ single. Another that I was familiar with from the US “Red Rose” 12″ was the wonderful song “Next Generation.” This had long been one of my favorite Alphaville songs and a real feather in their cap. Which was fortunate because in Germany it was the B-side of “Universal Daddy,” the song that embarrassed Marian Gold the most due to its lyrics. Salvation on the B-side! Gold revealed that the Chernobyl Incident was the genesis for that particular tune.

There were a number of delicate ballads in these tracks and while “Welcome To The Son” was a minimal construction of just Gold’s voice and that annoying Fender Rhodes electric piano patch I never cared for, “Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers” [“20,000 Miles Under The Sea”] was all the better for having the electric piano run through a tremolo effect, giving it that aging effect as used on Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes.” The sounf effects of the ocean waves creaking also help to establish a mood. When the muted guitars and regal synths enter the song at midpoint, it ended up attaining a certain dignity that fit Gold’s vocal performance.

I must also say that my appreciation for Gold’s singing really flowered while listening to this set. After hearing this much concentrated Alphaville I began drawing parallels from Marion Gold to a favorite singer of mine, Billy MacKenzie. There is a certain timbre in his voice that recalls Billy for me, particularly when he is really projecting.

alphaville - so80sThe mouthful of a title “Concrete Soundtraxx For Imaginary Films I” was the left-field favorite in the program. The long [6:46] synth-calypso tune played like nothing in the Aplhaville canon before or since. I’m assuming here, since 1989’s “The Breathtaking Blue” is as far as I’ve gone on Alphaville, but the cheerful, tropical number comes as close to reggae as the group probably could ever muster. As a stretch, it’s a lot of fun to hear. The band could be incredibly conceptual what with concept albums on Timothy Leary’s S.M.I.²L.E. concepts wrapped up in John Lilly and Robert Anton Wilson, and hearing them tread on this simpler ground was interesting. If you can’t stretch out and relax on a B-side, where can you?

The band had 12 B-sides form this period, so Blank + Jones filled out the program with selected alternate mixes. There were a few instrumental/dub mixes from the single, as well as the [inevitable, but not bad] “Big In Japan [1988]” 12″ version. Finally a new post-modern mix caps the set with “Big In Japan [Torsten Fenslau Remix].” It’s not bad; sporting a retro Jazzy B vibe to its remix. But it was the runt of the litter here. What made this collection so enjoyable, was the fact that it expertly curated the band’s imperial period for the cream of the single only material.

I should mention that not only was the material excellent, but the presentation was just as accomplished. The hefty booklet has full page images of each single sleeve, copious liner notes from Gold himself and a selection of period photos; all dutifully annotated. It’s worth mentioning that Blank + Jones retained physical licensing rights for their own Soundcolours label. The DL packages that account for the intangible versions of this album are lacking a lot of detail. Most notably on the music files themselves! Due to licensing and sourcing errors in various markets, the masters used by all DL stores have errors that have cropped up. Namely, some tracks used vinyl rips!

Only the CD package was sourced from the actual master tapes, so anyone wanting this package would be much advised to track down a CD copy for some wonderfully mastered Alphaville rarities. The Blank + Jones store is sold out so it’s the aftermarket, now. Moreover, the mastering on the CD set was rich and musical with no brickwalling and at the end of the day, one is left with a CD that was made to similar standards to my own projects, though had it been me, I would have included all of the variation tracks on at least another one or two extra CDs. But this was exemplary for a commercial project. Blank + Jones are to be commended for their expert curation of this package.

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4 Responses to Record Review: Alphaville – So80s [part 2]

  1. Vlad says:

    Actually, this collection lacks a couple of “canonic” versions – like dub mixes of “Sensations” and “Red Rose”. I would substitute the last two remixes of “Big in Japan” for those any time and it’s strange that those two got overlooked.

    Also, they’ve used a 12″ version of “The Elevator” – 7″ one is a minute shorter (but that’s a minor grumble as the song is so good I’d gladly hear a version twice as long!). Well, speaking of the 7″s, the band severaly lacks a good, comprehensive single edits/mixes CD! It’s hard to believe but it is so. To think you cannot find 7″ versions of “Jet Set” or “Sounds Like a Melody” or “Romeos” on CD… They’ve had a chance to get that right in 1992 with their fine “First Harvest” compilation – but preferred instead to fill it with new remixes, which was misguided to say the least. Though that’s how I got to hear this band first, curiously.

    And it’d tempting to get some of their rarities on CD – like a French “version rapide” mix of “Forever Young” (it’s an original dance version shortened) and others. Another double CD set in waiting, hopefully :)

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Vlad – Well you have basically said that this is not a Boxed Set Of God, and I agree! Had I been in charge, it would have been a 4-5 CD set of of canonical tracks from the ’84-’89 period only, with no post-modern mixes.

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  2. Vlad says:

    As for the quality of the B-sides, you are dead right – some of them are good for the albums. Tracks like “Seeds”, “The Elevator” or “Next Generation” must’ve been on corresponding albums instead of tripe like “Fallen Angel”, “Fantastic Dream” or “Lies” (sorry to anyone who likes those but I feel them to be just a lightweight filler with no sense or purpose). In fact, “Seeds”, my fave among their B-material, could be a great single if mixed more forcefully, to resemble the sound of Ultravox. Even an OK “Golden Feeling” is now a legitimate part of their live set, beating most of LP stuff.

    So, a great B-sides band – which is in itself a compliment, of course, but I feel they’ve let themselves down not choosing the right songs for major releases. Which is why there’s no definitive Alphaville LP for me, they are all hit-and-miss (though recently “The Breathtaking Blue” unexpectedly crept in to be my preferred choice). But when they’re good, they’re brilliant, so their shortcomings are forgiven, I guess :o)

    And by the way, they went reggae (with pleasing results) on the song “Faith” from their 1994 CD “Prostitute” – so “Big Yello Sun” was just a tentative step. That CD I’d recommend – it contains some gems like “Iron John” or “Ivory Tower” or “The One Thing”. Their 1997 album “Salvation” is a definite miss, though – just a bland collection of unrelated tracks which is best forgotten. Haven’t heard the latest offering so won’t comment on it.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Vlad – Thanks for the Alphaville update. I never ever see those albums in stores, so if I want them, I’d have to mail order them. The one time I saw the “Prostitute” album, I bought it for a friend’s birthday as they really liked Alphaville. I never got to hear it. But I did manage to buy the Marion Gold solo album. Not bad. The covers were interesting. I always loved the originals of “The Shape Of Things To Come” and “Roll Away The Stone.” Amazing true fact: until just months ago, I never recognized his version of “The Shape Of Things To Come” as a cover as I did not have the original in my Record Cell. Until 2012, when I finally found the Headboys 7″ and album. Even then, his cover was so radically different that It remained until I was recently researching “So Long Celeste” on Discogs when I saw the writing credits and the penny dropped!

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