[…continued from last post]
After enduring “Sex [I’m a…]” then the album picks up the level of achievement considerably with a strong “side two.” “Masquerade” has always been my go-to Berlin song. From the pen of guitarist Chris Ruiz-Velasco, it began with a motorik bass synth pulse ripped straight from “All Stood Still,” and featured real drums working at playing the Ultravox game and playing the game extremely well! At the heart of the song the cascading melody entwined in on itself effortlessly; pasting this melody in my skull for hours at a time.
The interplay between the traditional elements of the track and the crystalline synths and string patches simply nails the balance between technology and tradition that works best for me. Sadly, Velasco was out of the band by the time of their third album the following year. A pity. I’d loved to have heard more songs of the potency of “Masquerade” in Berlin’s artistic quiver. It’s just a superb pop song with great performances. At various points in the song Terri Nunn was multi tracked with her vocals forming a winning web of sound.
The “hit single” in America was “The Metro” since the other single, “Sex [I’m A…]” was only ever going to be intended for club play. A not unimportant concern of the time to break new bands. Especially those with a less than traditional “rock” grounding like Berlin. “The Metro” managed to get a respectable showing on MTV at the time and got as high as 58 in the US pop charts. I liked the song back then, but was always too enrapt with “Masquerade” to pay too much heed to its many excellent qualities. Until recently!
For a start, the song was the most synthetic track that Berlin may have ever recorded. With just drum machine, synthetic handclap percussion and insistent, pulsating synthesizer predominating. I can hear only scant guitars chords embedded deep in the song’s chorus. The motorik energy here was of a high level of urgency. I loved the pitch bent, strident synth solo in the wordless middle eight among the howling, synthetic air raid sirens. The tritone European police sirens on the fadeout were another finishing touch that effectively staked a valid claim in the band’s European aspirations. This was certainly not Middle American, breadbasket rock music. And I love this single about three times as much now as I did in 1982. And I liked it then.
Not having a copy of this album for 35 years gives me a different experience of it today, as opposed to when it was released. For instance, in 1982, I didn’t even know about the “Information” album. Now, I can hear a quirky track like “World Of Smiles” with it’s gimmicky, lurching “New Wave” rhythms and draw a clear line to the overall vibe on the preceding “Information” album. It clearly sounded like a song that dated back to that period or perhaps immediately afterward. I could add it as a bonus track to my CD of it and but for the fact that it was sung by Terri Nunn, it would fit more seamlessly on that album than this one. And John Crawford’s recitation [not quite singing] on the middle eight, recalled nothing as much to my ears as the tone of vocal attack used by John Foxx on a track like “Artificial Life!”
I liked the hard cut segue from the end of “World Of Smiles” straight into the closing track, the aptly named “Torture.” With its plodding drum machine rhythms and melodramatic piano and mournful synths it was perhaps another outlier that these were Ultravox fans since the song shared a bit of vibe with something like “Your Name [Has Slipped My Mind Again.].” But Ultravox would have given greater emphasis to the wordless bass vocals chanted as the despairing little ditty ground to a halt.
Next: …Mixing It Up