For better and for worse, Clubber Lang, the latest album by the German electronic duo Massiv in Mensch, is a wonderful example of 21st century dance music. The good parts of the album are its interesting sounds, compelling melodies, and tight, intricate production. The bad part is that the only people who are likely to possess the patience and listening experience necessary to appreciate the album’s virtues are dance music fans.
Over the course of four albums, Massiv in Mensch has established itself as an influential presence on the world dance music scene. The duo has gained a reputation based on meticulous production and offbeat experimentalism. Both these traits are on display on Clubber Lang. Although the music takes a few listens to fully absorb, the album eventually reveals itself to be a skillful and interesting set of songs.
Clubber Lang opens with the relatively brief, “In Mensch” and quickly plunges into the album’s first highlight, a cover of “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday”. Listeners who are accustomed to hearing Bono deliver this song will probably initially find the song disconcerting. Repeated patient listens will eventually demonstrate that the cover is actually quite effective. Bono’s plaintive cry is replaced by the snarl of Sven Enzelmann of the Promise, who plays up the sinister elements of the song. The result is a track that is at once more danceable and more frightening than the original.
After the U2 cover, Massiv in Mensch begins to sound more free. The fourth track “Menschdefekt”, which shares a name with the last Massiv in Mensch album, is a nod to the band’s fans. The fifth track, “Klang der Unsterblichkeit”, is more upbeat and driving than any of the previous songs, while the song that follows it, “Hass Kot (Reloaded)” is twitchy, sinister, and noisy. As listeners progress through the album, they will begin to notice that the tracks are actually songs, complete with significant lyrics and catchy melodies. Calling Clubber Lang a pop record is definitely a stretch, but the album is definitely much more accessible than much of the music that comes from Massiv in Mensch’s ebm/dark rave scene.
On the title track, Massiv in Mensch’s experimentalism is in full force. The beat moves from being steadily driving to dizzyingly hyper, and the background includes police sirens, jazzy horns, and German and English lyrics. The most straightforward pop songs on the album follow the title track. “Green” has a standard dance beat that echoes the simple vocal melody. “Around My Heart” features the talents of Anna-Maria Straatman, whose voice is appropriately seductive yet confident. Near the end of the album, Massiv in Mensch shows its familiar dark side, delivering the unsettling “Bitterfeld” and the aggressive “History”, and the pounding “Toast”.
Clubber Lang is a dance fan’s dream. It is tight, technologically advanced, and tonally diverse. Although a group’s turn to a more pop-oriented sound sometimes leads diehard fans to cry sellout, chances are that electronic fans will welcome Massiv in Mensch’s newfound accessibility in the hopes that Clubber Lang will earn the Germans a wider mainstream audience. Unfortunately, these hopes are probably in vain. Yes, the album is melodic and catchy, but it is melodic for an ebm outfit, and catchy for an underground dance record. To understand Massiv in Mensch’s significance, one must be familiar with alternative dance music, and most fans of pop music are not. Further compounding Massiv in Mensch’s problems is the fact that many pop music fans will be resistant to German dark humor, no matter how upbeat or catchy it may be. Whether or not any of these judgments are fair is a matter for another discussion. For the time being, dance and electronic fans should be thrilled to have an excellent new record to listen to, and everyone else should take Clubber Lang for a spin to see if Massiv in Mensch’s musical sensibilities are consistent with their own.