The Notwist’s new live album, Superheroes, Ghostvillians & Stuff, begins triumphantly. “They Follow Me”, which is also the opening track to the Notwist’s most recent studio album, is improved upon, cleaned up. The studio track is gorgeous as it is, but after cutting some of the studio fat from the track, we get to hear it for what it truly is: a melancholy, heartbreaking ode to a lost love, heightened by the lead singer Markus Acher’s ever fragile and unaltered voice.
This is what a live album should do for the listener — offer a fresh take on well-known material. Seeing a band live is one thing, but listening to a live album is wholly different. The listener needs a reason to stay, and the opening track is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, all of Superheroes, Ghostvillians & Stuff does not reach these heights, but it’s not from a lack of trying.
The Notwist have been around for nearly 30 years. They are a shifty sort, often moving, always playing around with forms. In their early years, they played metal and grunge. They shifted to indie rock for a moment and then experimented with an electronics heavy form on their 1998 album Shrink. With 2002’s Neon Golden they found the sweet spot between indie and electronics and this is where they have mostly planted themselves since. 2008’s The Devil, You + Me and 2014’s Close to the Glass are crops harvested from the garden that produced Neon Golden and that’s ok because it’s a great album. With the exception of one track, Superheroes, Ghostvillians & Stuff sticks with these successful years.
As a live act, the group leans heavily on the electronics, and it honestly gets in the way at times. As mentioned earlier, “They Follow Me” begins the album with stripped down beauty. The song is still loaded with electronic sounds, but the bells and whistles are taken out to expose the song beneath. Occasionally, the band repeats this, as they do with the staggering “Consequence”, but often they seem to make it a theme of their live document to play around with all the knobs on their toys.
For example, “This Room”, itself a standout from the standout album Neon Golden, is extended for an extra two minutes, and what is added is actually annoying. The last minute sounds a little like a symphony of glitchy children’s toys. This is fun of course, but not worth a re-listen. Furthermore, it’s what would probably be called a “had-to-be-there moment”, which for obvious reasons does not translate onto a live audio document. This happens throughout the album, especially within the latter third. “Pilot” veers so far from its original course in its 13-plus minutes that a co-worker walking by my office asked me if I was a fan of EDM.
Fortunately, the songs are solid enough to handle a little toying around. The Notwist are talented at writing the kind of songs that hit a melancholy and serious spot somewhere in your abdomen. A little playing around with the form misses the mark of course, but it’s not a deal-breaker. At the end of it all, the closing track, “Gone, Gone, Gone” says it all: “We’ll never let you go this far alone.”
The fans are here to stay, so a little fun self-indulgence isn’t shaking off any of them. They are still cheering, and since it’s a live album, you can literally hear them.