Monday, January 13, 2014

Nina Hagen - Fearless

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Fearless, the English version of the 1983 album Angstlos from German singer and actress Nina Hagen. It spent eight weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 151.

Working on the album with Hagen were Richie Zito (guitar), Steve Schiff (guitar and keyboards), Karl Rucker (bass and keyboards), Arthur Barrow (keyboards), Phil Scannel (keyboards), John Gilson (drum programming), and Gary Herbik (saxophone). Backing vocalists included Carmen Twillie, Clydine Jackson, Julia Waters and Maxine Waters.

Side one begins with “New York, New York”, which went to number 9 on the US Billboard Dance charts. The song has a pleasant rhythm to it, and then Hagen comes in on the vocals to talk about nightlife in the Big Apple. She takes on a lot of personalities in this one, from shrieking harpy to quirky popster to opera singer on the chorus.

"My Sensation" puts a rough edge on a sexual situation. Hagen comes across as almost scary here as if she'll hurt you if you don't love her the right way.

"Flying Saucers" is her spin on the UFO craze that was growing in popularity in the early 80's. It is backed by an appropriate synthesizer heavy accompaniment.

I am not certain who exactly "I Love Paul" is aimed. My first theory was Paul McCartney, which the chorus sort of supports when it rolls into a Hare Krishna chant (a key part of fellow Beatle George Harrison's 1970 hit "My Sweet Lord").

"The Change", with a bouncy up-tempo beat, talks about death and what might follow afterwards. Hagen's sporadic yodeling on the chorus was a bit unexpected though.

Side two starts with “Silent Love” on a very cosmic, metaphysical sort of way. Again, we have another great dance arrangement here.

“What It Is” was co-written with Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The song very much has their signature style to it, from a rocking bass groove to a rapid-fire rap.

"TV Snooze" has a great new-wave groove to it. Its lyrics hint at a post-hypnotic influence that falling asleep with the television on might have to someone.

On "Springtime in Paris", Hagen reminds me a little bit of Lene Lovich vocally. I don't speak French, so I cannot tell if those lines are sincere or mocking satire. I suspect the latter based just on their delivery.

The closing track “Zarah” reached number 45 on the US Billboard Dance charts. It is actually a cover of a song called “Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen” (which roughly translates to “I know even a miracle can happen”) that was recorded by Swedish actress and singer Zarah Leander. It starts out in an old-fashioned sort of way before evolving into a synth-infused dance track.

A number of new-wave acts from Germany crossed over to the English speaking markets in the early 1980‘s and Nina Hagen was one of them. What typically happened though is that one or two songs from them would strike interest with the American market but then we would move on to the next “new” thing. While I might not have remembered them by name, I am pretty certain I heard a few of the songs from Fearless on the college radio station when I was living on campus in the mid-80's. Her style is very artistic with sharp edges and in-your-face delivery. It is definitely the kind of stuff that takes a few listens for me to digest and appreciate.

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