Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Modern Take On Musical Language

The 1980s witnessed a real surge in the global chart success of European based acts.  During the 70s the likes of ABBA, Kraftwerk and Boney M (from non-English language countries) had laid the platform for a wave of European artists to springboard from into British, U.S., and Australian chart territory in the decade following.  The likes of Time Bandits, Sparks, Peter Schilling, Ottawan, Masquerade, Army Of Lovers, Opus, Nena, Freiheit  (see all in previous posts), A-Ha, Aldo Nova, Alphaville, Europe (the band in this case not the continent) had already stamped their brand well beyond the borders of their native countries, in addition to enjoying massive success at home.  Another such act to make a ripple, if not a splash, into foreign chart waters during the 80s was German synth-pop duo Modern Talking, not to be confused with Modern Romance, or Modern Lovers, or Modern Eon, or Modern English - in fact there’s so much modern in this post, I’m tempted to make a reference to post-modernism, but I’ll leave that to another time, and possibly another blog.  For now, let’s take a closer look at the Modern Talking journey.

In early 1983, Dieter Bohlen was a songwriter and producer at Berlin’s Intersong label.  Previously Bohlen had a stint as a musician (synthesizer/guitar), but had yet to find the right vehicle to enjoy sustained success. 

Enter vocalist Thomas Anders for who Bohlen had produced several songs, including a cover version of an F.R. David track (see previous post).  The musical chemistry seemed right, and so they decided to write and record some music as a duo (though Bohlen did most of the writing).

Having settled on the name Modern Talking, the duo recorded their first material in late ‘84, and released their first single ‘You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul’ on the Elektra label during the first half of 1985.  The song soared to #1 in Germany (for 6 weeks), and made forays into the top ten of over 30 countries worldwide (UK#56).  A second hit single followed in the guise of ‘You Can Win If You Want’ which proved another #1 winner on the German charts (UK#70/France#8).  Both songs featured on Modern Talking’s debut album, imaginatively titled ‘The 1st Album’, the sales for which exceeded half a million.  The band’s cutting edge synth style was augmented by falsetto vocal arrangements, featuring both Anders and Bohlen, along with regular session singers such as Rolf Kohler and Michael Scholz.  Whatever
the inspiration for the marrying of falsetto style vocals with synth, the duo had struck upon a winning combination.

By late ‘85, Modern Talking were ready to communicate once more via their sophomore album ‘Let’s Talk About Love’.  The conversation started with the lead out single ‘Cheri, Cheri Lady’, a cheery, cheery little track that reminds this author of Baltimore’s ‘Tarzan Boy’, in style if nothing else.  Regardless, ‘Cheri, Cheri Lady’ found a happy home at #1 on the German charts, and a similar feat in France.  It’s surprising then that it was the only single issued from the second album.

By mid ‘86, Modern Talking broke their silence with the release of their third album, ‘Ready For Romance’ (Ge#1/UK#76), which spawned two more hit singles.  ‘Brother Louie’ (not to be confused with the 1973 hit by New York rock quartet Stories) became the duo’s biggest hit in Britain (UK#4/CA#34), but proved a bigger hit on the continent, notching up another chart topper at home, and top five forays in several other countries.  Initially I wasn’t overly enamoured by ‘Brother Louie’, but the song’s silky smooth charms have won me over through the years.  The follow up single, ‘Atlantis Is Calling (S.O.S. For Love)’, adhered
to a now familiar, slick produced, radio friendly formula, and sure enough was discovered at #1 on the German charts late in ‘86 (UK#55).

Soon after the apparently prolific Bohlen/Anders combination released album #4 entitled ‘In The Middle Of Nowhere’.  The album seemed to find it’s way into the German top ten with little trouble, and though topping their home charts, Modern Talking’s grip on sales was starting to loosen, ever so slightly.  This was despite the quality of the single released, an up tempo, synth-pop cover of the 1972 Michael Murphey (see previous post) hit, ‘Geronimo’s Cadillac’.  I would rate this my favourite Modern Talking song, as it has a definite Boney M style to it, and is just a feel good, high energy musical jaunt.

As with most creative partnerships, the chemistry will eventually go sour, or stale at least, and so it appeared to be with Modern Talking.  On the surface, 1987’s album ‘Romantic Warriors’ appeared to be business as usual, but the formulaic sound began to seem jaded, and though the album still ascended to #3 in Germany, the bullet proof dominance seemed to be vulnerable.  Rather than featuring a chart topping single, the album spawned just a top ten track in the form of the strongly dance oriented ‘Jet Airliner’.  The only other track that would instantly command a second listen was ‘You And Me’.

By 1987, tensions within the working partnership of Anders and Bohlen had become untenable, and the pair
decided to go their separate ways.  Enough recorded material had been accumulated to enable the release of a final album near year’s end - ‘In The Garden Of Venus’ bore little fruit chart wise, with the single ‘In 100 Years’ reaching #30 in Germany.

By the time the (then) final Modern Talking album had been released, Dieter Bohlen had already put together a new project titled Blue System.  Working with long time co-producer Luis Rodriguez, over a period of ten years Bohlen crafted Blue System initially in the Euro-disco market, then exploring techno and house styles to considerable success.  Meanwhile, Modern Talking vocalist Thomas Anders set about establishing a solo career, initially touring the music of Modern Talking, but eventually recording several albums of new material.

By 1997 rumours surfaced of a reconciliation between the long time estranged creative cohorts.  Early in 1998 the duo performed together on German television, the first performance of Modern Talking for over a
decade.  In March of 1998 the album ‘Back For Good’ was released.  It featured 18 tracks in all, including three new tracks, and re-recorded versions of previous hits, all with a decidedly dance-synth edge.  Sales of the comeback album bordered on astronomical, justifying the duo’s decision to revive the Modern Talking brand.  Over the ensuing few years, Modern Talking released on average an album a year, with limited single releases from each.  By 2003, the partnership was once more under strain, and the decision was made to call it quits on Modern Talking, or perhaps it was modern bickering by that stage.  Bohlen and Anders once more went their separate ways, and a final compilation album of the band’s material was released by way of a fond farewell to fans of Modern Talking.  Regardless of an acrimonious end to proceedings, the duo have established an almost unrivalled place in the pantheon of European popular music with album sales well in excess of 100 million.

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