Music

Berlin: Voyeur

Will Harris

Berlin

Voyeur

Label: BMG
US Release Date: 2002-08-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Has any band in the history of music (okay, I realize this sounds like major hyperbole, but stick with me) ever suffered such a significant blow to its credibility as Berlin did when they recorded "Take My Breath Away," for the soundtrack to Top Gun?

Think about it for a minute.

When the band first appeared in 1982 with their infamous single, "Sex (I'm A . . .)," they weren't exactly putting out a shiny, happy, fun-for-the-whole family vibe. If you couldn't figure that much out by the end of the first verse ("Wrap your legs around mine / And ride me tonight") then, before the chorus was over, as Terri Nunn variously describes herself as a goddess, a blue movie, a bitch, a geisha, and a little girl, it was probably pretty clear that, despite that last depiction, the Pleasure Victim EP wasn't exactly marketable to pre-teens. Thankfully, however, the title cut wasn't quite so lyrically blatant . . . and, more importantly, "The Metro" was a staple on early '80s MTV.

When the band's first full-length album, Love Life, made the scene in '84, "No More Words" brought the band into the charts with full force. At least a bit more upbeat than its predecessor, Love Life also featured the production assistance of legendary disco king Giorgio Moroder.

Moroder, for all the moments of brilliance in his career (mostly associated with Donna Summer), is best remembered as the one who walked up to Berlin's coffin of credibility, nail in hand, and said, "Hey, let me get that last one for you!"

The "nail," of course, was "Take My Breath Away", which Moroder co-wrote and produced. The song, which topped the charts, was featured prominently in Top Gun and, in addition to being virtually inescapable throughout 1986, also appeared on the band's next album, Count Three And Pray. The album might've been an artistic triumph (if you believe the All Music Guide . . . and why wouldn't you?), but a commercial one. Not so much. (Probably because everyone had already spent their allowance on the Top Gun soundtrack.) Whether it was the direct result of the album's bellyflop or not, the band nonetheless broke up not long after. Terri Nunn managed to put out one solo album, but, for the most part, she and the rest of Berlin stayed relatively mum.

It wasn't until 1998 that Nunn finally reformed the band for some live dates. Hooking up with Cleopatra Records (a.k.a. where '80s has-beens go when the major labels can't be arsed to sign them anymore), the band released Greatest Hits Remixed in 2000; thankfully, it was followed later in the year by the decidedly less dispensible Live: Sacred & Profane on Timebomb Records.

In addition to showing that Nunn's voice was still strong, the album also included three new studio tracks. Unfortunately, the first one of them, "Shayla", tried to meld rap to Berlin's signature synth-pop style, and the result was, well, pretty much crap. Thankfully, the other two, "Angel's Wings" and "XGirl", were better, showing the band's fascination with the modern dance scene without having to desecrate old Berlin songs in the process.

To Berlin's credit, Voyeur, their first full-length reunion album, doesn't recycle any of those three tracks. The album contains 11 brand new songs, one of which, "Sacred and Profane", was co-written with former Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan.

The dance influences remain on Voyeur; in fact, the first two tracks, "Blink of an Eye" and "Shiny", are both potential floor-fillers. It isn't until the third song, "Lost My Mind", when a fan of the band's earlier work might actually say, "Hey, is that Berlin?"; on this song, as well as the next, "The World Is Waiting", Nunn's voice is placed in more familiar surroundings.

But if you want to talk familiar, "Drug" is the best early '80s Berlin single you've never heard. It's arguably the best song on the album, and it's like producer Mitchell Sigman said, "Okay, you write and record a song that sounds like it could've come off the Pleasure Victim EP, and I'll make it sound relevant for today's market." Nipping at its heels for the honor of top track is "Stranger on the Bus", which is unquestionably the most successful blend of the band's former sound with its new musical interests.

There is no successor to "Take My Breath Away" on Voyeur, thankfully. Schmaltz is completely absent from this album; even the ballads contain a feeling of gloom. (Apparently, Nunn's work with the Sisters of Mercy rubbed off on her.)

Although the band succumbs to the "hidden bonus track" trend, on the up side, it's only hidden about a minute or so after the reputed last song. The bonus, a live version of "Pleasure Victim", is a very nice way of bringing the album full circle, making you want to investigate Berlin's back catalog for all the right reasons. Throughout Voyeur, you're not going, "Geez, they're not as good as I remembered," with your thoughts drifting back to the band's earlier singles and videos. Instead, you're thinking, "Huh. This whole album is really good; are all their albums that consistent?" If there's any better compliment that can be paid to a comeback attempt, it proves elusive at the moment.

In the ever-growing field of '80s artists making a bid for a return to the charts, Berlin has just leapt to the front of the pack of those who legitimately deserve to succeed. If Voyeur doesn't bring them back to prominence, blame it on anyone but the band; this could well be the best work they've ever produced.

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