The Sound of Music 2-
David Bowie released a German-language version of Heroes where the chorus runs “werden wir Helden, für einen Tag” (“we could be heroes, just for one day”). Wir sind Helden (We are heroes) are comprised of Judith Holofernes, Pola Roy, Mark Tavassol and Jean-Michel Tourette. When I was on holidays in June 2005, these guys were never off Viva and MTV Germany (unlike its counterpart in the UK, MTV Germany squeezes in the odd video between ads for ringtones) with the video for nur ein Wort (just one word).
The video was a pastiche of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. Shot in black & white the singer, Judith warbles away while around her the three other band members drop boards with words extracted randomly from the lyrics written on them onto the ground. “It has been done before” I thought to myself, until I saw the second half where the tape you’ve just seen is reversed and the previously random words now leaping off the ground into peoples’ hands make up the exact lyrics which are being sung. That, and the fact that at one point in the middle of the video, Judith gives a shy girl-next-door smile that would melt the hardest of hearts before skipping out of frame. Ahh, the innocence! Thanks to advances in technology in recent years (and the invention of YouTube), we can share this through the magic of the interweb.
This is quirky spiky pop of the sort that I thought had been driven into extinction. You know, the stuff with a tune that doesn’t rely on a bunch of over-groomed pretty boys dancing in perfect synchronisation to sell. OK, it’s in a foreign-language, but English-language stuff around these days is pretty appalling, so broaden your horizons folk. It sounds vaguely like Kirsty McColl.
Wir sind Helden have three albums – Die Reklamation (the advertisement), von hier an Blind (blind from here on out) and Soundso (sounds like). The title of the second album comes from their musings on their future plans after the unexpected success of their debut – split up and pursue careers as music teachers wrapping the title of forgotten legends around them or get back into the studio and blindly go to work to see what came out.
Obviously they chose the latter path. The first two albums are very close to each other both in terms of character and quality. Commentators have hailed Wir sind Helden as part of the Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave) – the long overdue national arts renaissance any music hack hopes for to make them feel like a far-seeing cultural commentator rather than some punter with a thousand words to fill by Saturday if he’s not to lose his job. There’s even a little play on words here – Deutsche Welle is Germany’s equivalent of the BBC World Service.
I became a big fan of their music and eagerly pounced on their third album when released in 2007 after the band took a maternity break. Soundso sounds just like their first two albums...and therein lies the problem. To my untutored ear, the band haven't moved forward stylistically and all the good tunes were on their first two albums. A disappointment.
At this stage, the fickle music fan would shrug their shoulders and walk away, writing the band off as having a great future behind them. And yet... I came across a video of the band playing a song called "Blow him back into my arms" by Swedish artist Moneybrother. Taken from an unplugged session for radio station FM4, it comes across like a spiritual number speaking achingly of loss and salvation. It's actually a considerable improvement on the original version, imbuing it with real emotion. I fell in love with the band again.
Talking of modern technology, it is worth noting that the first two albums both come with added content. Die Reklamation comes with a karaoke function for one of their most uptempo songs which is hard enough to keep pace with if you’re a native German-speaker and downright hilarious if you’re not. von hier an Blind features video clips of the band. Not official concert footage or hagiographic ‘making of’ interviews, just clips of the band in their daily lives – the two guitarists trying to play together in time and abandoning it in favour of an impromptu KISS parody complete with rock god poses and tongue waggling, Jean-Michel trying to play back a recording on his PC only for it to sound horrible when he does, Judith dancing in the kitchen in a manner that J-Lo would never allow to seep into the public domain. It’s this whimsy and charm that is one of the most captivating elements about the band – the artwork for von hier an Blind is drawn in the manner of Hergé’s Tin-Tin comics. The music is similar in terms of tone - boppy and enthusiastic but with a depth which Robbie Williams will never know.