Alphaville’s effervescent debut still soars

by - 14:44

It was 1984, and British synth pop was in full swing, the likes of OMD, Depeche Mode, The Human League and Eurythmics torchbearers of the first real wave of electronica, but it was a German band that infiltrated the European airwaves with something truly unique.

Merging Moogs And Mellotrons may have been a template set by David Bowie and Roxy Music, but Munster’s Alphaville were piecing a sonic jigsaw puzzle like few others, and it’s debut album Forever Young, stands to this day as a bullet-proof synth pop masterpiece and all-time classic.

From the opening, stereophonic strains of A Victory Of Love, Marian Gold, Bernhard Lloyd and Frank Mertens set the tone for a 10-song excursion that remains unrelenting in its power to captivate right to the final track The Jet Set.

A music project, Nelson Community, brought Gold and Lloyd together, before Mertens signed up to make the band a trio. Riding the pop music revolution of the time, which was fast shifting from guitars to synthesisers, Alphaville created a pastiche of what came before with what was to come.

Composing an album so tightly-crafted takes some doing, but the trio pulled it off with aplomb, with every song worth its weight in (pardon the pun) gold, though the domestic production team of Andreas Budde, Colin Pearson and Wolfgang Loos are often forgotten in the equation.

The band’s first single, and it’s most successful, Big In Japan, a tune about a couple trying to break free from the shackles of opiates, blasted out of every pasar malam back in the mid-1980s, and it’s no surprise that the song was an irrepressible hit in the European pop and dance charts at that point. But it was also the track that type-cast the band as a purported one-hit wonder, and lost its lustre fastest.

The title track, however, a maelstrom of melancholia, has become the most enduring, able to elicit a tear from every fading generation as their time passes by. Composed right smack in the middle of the cold war, Gold (who boasts a multiple octave vocal range) generates intellectual lyrics and questions poignantly, “… are you going to drop the bomb or not?”

There’s an indispensable Beatles quality to the horn arrangement at the end, almost a tip of the hat to (now, the late) George Martin. The song’s appearance on the 2004 runaway success Napoleon Dynamite sold it to a newer audience.

The likes of Summer In Berlin, To Germany With Love, Sounds Like A Melody and Lies ensure that very little of Forever Young sounds explicitly dated. Within a swift 40-odd minutes, synth pop’s finest hour was created. My eldest brother and I bought the (shhh, pirated) cassette thee times. The first was worn out, the second nicked and the third … lost in the mists of time.

But I have two copies of the record and CD now. Phew.

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