[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.
The 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 ” 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.
– 30 –