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Main Category: Punk/Grunge
Also applicable: Art Rock, Dance Pop, Avantgarde
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1979
Overall rating =

Proof irrefutable that you can marry punk and opera if you try hard enough.


Track listing: 1) TV Glotzer (White Punks On Dope); 2) Rangehn; 3) Unbeschreiblich Weiblich; 4) Auf'm Bahnhof Zoo; 5) Naturträne; 6) Superboy; 7) Heiss; 8) Fisch Im Wasser; 9) Auf'm Friedhof; 10) Der Spinner; 11) Pank.

Nina Hagen Band, the album, was recorded in 1978 in West Berlin (if I'm not mistaken - reliable info on Nina Hagen is hard to come by on the Web), shortly after Nina Hagen's emigration to the rotten stagnating capitalist part of the world, and the band here includes expressive rotten stagnating capitalist guitarist Bernard Potschka, skilful rotten stagnating capitalist keyboardist Reinhold Heil and, uh, others I could name but I'm not sure if that should form part of our game. So much for trivia.

Now I know I have sort of an unholy fetish about giving out unusually high ratings to "raw" debut albums, but at least it beats stealing lingerie. After all, in a perfect world unmarred by useless complifications, people would understand and accept such a crude binary approach: either you cut it right out there from the beginning, or you simply just don't cut it at all. No great band has ever released a completely worthless debut album (despite what they'd have you believe about From Genesis To Revelation), and quite a few great artists came into the open already fully equipped. Not that the songs on this album were Nina Hagen's first recordings, actually (apparently, some of the earlier material which she recorded while still in East Germany can be found floating around - see more details in the reader comments section), but it was her first coherent, cohesive LP, and this certainly qualifies as a debut.

Alas, like pretty much every "limited" European release, Nina Hagen Band is not very well known to the world's audiences. As far as my opinion is concerned, it should be. Why? For quite a simple reason: it's one of the best, one of the most quintessential "art-punk" albums ever released. Most quintessential, because in this particular case, "art-punk" does not decode as "deconstructed punk music" a la Wire or someone of that rank; here, it decodes as "punk music effectively crossed with elements of classical art", and God forbid you from flashing visions of the Electric Light Orchestra through your head in response. (Nothing against ELO, but these guys were always at their best when they just stuck to cello-driven pop).

But more than that, Nina Hagen Band is one of the most personality-filled albums of its epoch I know of. Now it's true that the late Seventies have produced quite a few female performers of merit, from Kate Bush to Siouxsie Sioux and so on. However, in terms of diversity, dedication, adventurousness and professionalism Nina Hagen has them all beat on this debut. Energy, experimentalism, and efficiency: this album beams with life, and even if it ends up seriously annoying you (and I see how it would), there's absolutely no denying the power, the vivaciousness, and the unusualness of the thing. She may be an angel, or a demon, but she won't be a mere "good-for-nothing" for anyone.

In terms of pure songwriting, or, rather, melody-writing, there's not that much to laud - my first impression was that I was listening to the German equivalent of Patti Smith (confer the vocal intro to 'Unbeschreiblich Weiblich' with Patti's 'Ask The Angels' and you'll see what I mean), the only difference being a more varied approach to the material: the music on here ranges from cheesy dance rhythms to typically New Wave structures to ballads to barroom boogie to Seventies' hard-rock. However, repeated listens eventually bring out bits and pieces of solid melodies, and after some time you begin to realize that the key to appreciating this music lies in the ability to understand the WILDNESS of it all. It doesn't matter if the melody is not too memorable, or if the melody is downright generic, or downright stolen; it matters that every one of these bits has a ferocious drive of its own, and that there's so many of them, you're supposed to be blinded by the kaleidoscopic effect instead of meticulously smashing the kaleidoscope with a rock and then leaving in disappointment over the unexclusiveness of each and every single little piece of coloured glass.

In any case it's not the melodies that are the main point of obsession on here, it's the performance. Nina Hagen unveils herself as a wild, uncompromising, spluttering punk goddess on here, mainly through the maniacal, "cavewoman" strength of her vocal cords, because when you come to think of it, only the very last track on the album follows the typical punk musical structure ('Pank' has the obligatory chainsaw buzz and lasts all of 1:44 - what else would you need?). Whatever the variations in the actual music, though, it's always the voice that matters.

For one thing, how often do you have operatic singers successfully bridging the distance between the 'highest' and the 'lowest' genres? Nina's East Germany training certainly turned out to be productive; "Naturträne" has to be heard to be believed, an almost - I hesitate to say the word - gorgeous Wagnerian "aria" about the simple beauty of life, culminating in a series of ear-splitting vocal gymnastics that you haven't heard since at least 'Child In Time' (and actually, I can't believe Nina's hysterical ever-rising singing on that one was not intended as a conscious attempt to throw Ian Gillan off his pedestal, and she succeeds). You gotta appreciate Nina's range on that one: while on some tracks she sings in a low gruff baritone, the highest note that ends 'Naturträne' might just be the highest note ever heard on a rock record. Totally ecstatic. Yet what actually pushes this over the edge is her ability to not come across as overblown. Her punk is actually delivered with more authenticity than her opera - and both her punk and her opera are always delivered with a mild sense of irony, so salvaging for the overall effect.

Of course, 'Naturträne' is far from the only highlight. On 'TV Glotzer', a reworking of the Tubes' 'White Punks On Dope' with German lyrics (well, actually, everything here is in German - that's kinda natural for a debut album released in West Germany. DUH!), Nina screams and bellows so much that she puts any concurrent punk singer to shame, at the same time managing to throw a few quick blasts of sarcasm towards the average TV-watching Joe. On 'Rangehn' her hysteria is perfectly supported by the band's dexterous interplay, even if the punk is suddenly gone, replaced by "white funk", I guess, or whatever you call that style; the guitar player's got a good tone too. And then there's 'Unbeschreiblich Weiblich', distinguished by, on one side, the album's most unforgettable synth riff (even if the skeleton of the song is pure garage-rock), on the other side, the no-holds-barred lyrics: the song must be one of the fiercest pro-abortion statements ever put on record. At times, when I hear Nina spit out the 'Ich hab' keine Pflicht! (I have no duty!)' line, I envision her standing on one cup of the scale with the entire Catholic church on the other and guess who's weightier.

Some of the songs (naturally) feature a more mystical, more Goth-influenced atmosphere, although I gotta say that for a German singer, Nina Hagen almost criminally underrates the importance of Goth for that kind of music. Even when something like 'Heiss' comes along, with its nervous guitar passages in the background and threatening breathy singing, it's still undermined by corny tee-hee-hees and that dang reggae riff. Reggae? In a dark castle-and-torture-chamber-type song? (Never mind that the lyrics are just about being horny - they're in German anyway). Ridiculous. But cool! As is 'Auf'm Friedhof', this time an actually dark song about the everyday life of a pair of vampires, a song that has it all - gory lyrics, unexpected fusion-style keyboard solos, Star Wars-like synth bloops, blood-curdling yells and yelps, and, of course, the inescapable declaration of God's death.

There's no attempt anywhere to be really serious (unless you count the lyrics to 'Unbeschreiblich Weiblich'), and yet this music crashes so many taboos that it's hard to merely judge this effort as a piece of dated goofy product. It's a bit inconsistent to be rated as Nina's highest, and her second effort would actually manage to beat it in terms of depth, diversity, and entertainment value, but the fact is that all of Nina Hagen is already here, limbs, fluids, and dharmas. Which makes it a must-have for all fans of Creative Forces Worldwide in the late 70s.



Year Of Release: 1980

I can't believe this album has passed so much into "obscure rarity" category, just like its predecessor. It's fuckin' brilliant - showcasing the Nina Hagen band at their absolute peak, and Nina Hagen herself in wonderful form before her pseudo-philosophical beliefs kinda bogged her down (while we're on that, do you know Nina is rumoured to be an AIDS supporter? She has this really weird belief about AIDS not being a disease but rather a kind of benign spiritual condition, claiming she knows lots of infested people who feel all right and live long, and that all the real trouble comes of curing AIDS. Kinda makes me shiver in my pajamas).

Anyway, this is now and that was then, and then was Unbehagen, which is 'discomfort' in German. And it does make you discomfortable, but certainly not the band or Nina himself. They feel pretty much at ease with every style they tackle, be it faux-Goth, quirky New Wave, aggressive punk, or "African Reggae" which introduces the record. I mean, who the hell would think a naughty East German girl could take a reggae rhythm, add lines like 'I wanna go to Africa to the black jah rastaman", and make it actually sound authentic? Well, okay, not really authentic, but in a way that doesn't sound like a pallid imitation or a ridiculous parody? And that her quickly assembled band of unknowns would hold down the rhythm so well? And add funny backing vocals and cute synth "whistles", too?

Humor abounds on here. For instance, on 'Wenn Ich Ein Junge War', structured as a basic Fifties pop number, Nina complains about her being discriminated for not being a boy and how it would be sweet to be one, but then again, when her Tino kisses her, only then it really pleases her "eine kleine piccolina, bambina, carina, si-sina signorina zu sein!" (hope your German/Italian is good enough to understand that). With an almost operatic flourish as she bawls out that line. And for me, a definite highlight is the grotesque two-minute punk rocker 'Wau Wau', punctuated by looped puppy barking and Nina pigsquealing about how she likes to make "kack in dein bett". Wooh, it's nice to know not everybody understands German. The track is totally hilarious and sounds truly like nothing else.

And these are the shorter tracks; I don't even know how to start describing the longer ones. "Overproduced"? "Multi-part"? "Eccentric"? All that and more. One thing I somewhat find to be missing is the vocal diversity; throughout, Nina keeps emphasizing her "raunchy" side; where on the debut album the balance between "diva" and "slut" was somehow equal, here it certainly veers towards the latter. There's nothing like 'Naturträne", for instance. Thus, you can't really appreciate all of her true uniqueness. But who really cares when the songs are so good? 'Wir Leben Immer Noch' rocks just as hard as any punk/New Wave act of the epoch, with a steady fast beat and hyper-inventive synth effects. The "telephone buzz" at the beginning of every tact is worth half a kingdom alone. And the lyrics are far from the grotesque rubbish Nina would start writing later, a very hard-hitting anthemic text about the, eh, current generation.

Easily the culmination of all this hyper-madness is 'Hermann Hiess Er' ('His Name Was Herman'), a chilling tale about a guy who's read too much Castaneda and eventually started shooting up in order to spend most of his time in the "real" world of the spirits. A strong anti-drugs, pro-reality statement, and a well spoken one, backed by magnificent punkish riffage from Potschka and with an "evil-sounding" mid-section where Nina's voice is electronically encoded to become even more fear-inducing than ever. It's not the most memorable of the songs on here, but it's an absolute peak if it's "performance" we're after. But then again, 'Alptraum' is also good, about a ghost haunting her lover (or so I interpret the lyrics). Vocally, Nina is certainly at her best when making a direct impersonation, which is why even the least melodically elaborated songs can turn out to be masterpieces if they actually "tell a story".

So even if not all of the songs are equally memorable, the album still manages to be consistent from beginning to end, coming to a halt with another Fifties throwback - 'Fall In Love Mit Mir', a weird "twist"-type melody made weirder by the usual vocal trimmings... and then, in a blink of an eye, the twist suddenly turns into reggae, making us realize how flimsy genre distinctions actually are. And with just one minute of fast grinding noise called 'No Way', the album is over, and you're not really sure if you've heard a masterpiece for the ages or a piece of overblown, meaningless, self-indulgent, ridiculously dated crap. I'd say both - considering Hagen's double diva/slut image, it's no problem to say that Unbehagen is just as much of a piece of absurdist trash as it is of a true work of art. You take it from here - one thing's for certain, and that is this album is no ordinary "thing".



Year Of Release: 1982

The only Nina Hagen album you might find if you happen to be a citizen of the cradle of modern democracy. Essentially because it was Nina Hagen's first English based album, recorded in New York of all places, and the one that got her a little press and a little recognition over the ocean. Not that it's a bad choice for your first Nina Hagen purchase, mind you. I can't say that I see a huge lot of progress from Unbehagen to this, but is that really necessary when your head is so chock full of 'minor' creative ideas you can easily last a lifetime upon 'em without necessarily having to change them?

Nunsexmonkrock totally grinds. It makes fun of just about everything, from the church ('Antiworld') to drugs ('Smack Jack') to religious obsessions ('Taitschi Tarot') to pompous futuristic declarations ('Future Is Now') to alien life ('UFO'). But even if you cannot make out the actual lyrics - and I sure can't most of the time - the very sound of the music is enough to drive you wild. Nina gets even more production-concerned on this album, which usually means featuring tons and tons and tons of vocal overdubs; sometimes there's as much as four or five Ninas vocalizing at the same time, each one in a different key and a different voice, yet in some perverse manner these overdubs merge together real well. Oh gosh, I mean, it's just my friggin' opinion.

And once again, just about every track offers something. 'Antiworld' opens with the most hilarious mention of Jesus I've ever witnessed, and the song itself is a goofy concoction of "similar-sounding" quotes, offering a few lines from Ravel's 'Bolero' in the beginning and a few lines from Jimi Hendrix's 'Third Stone From The Sun' in the middle. 'Smack Jack', the anti-dope song, starts off nice and cool as a modern-day post-discoish tune (the guitar line is very similar to the one that the Stones employed seven years later on 'Terrifying', by the way), with Nina at her most ominous, then suddenly transforms into a rapid-fire percussion-heavy rapped section, then reverts back to normal and so on. Plus, the 'he needs a hot shot' chorus is almost catchy in a normal pop way - long live the synthesis of the normal and the weird, I say.

You also have your 'Taitschi-Tarot', a really cruel mockery of peoples' obsession with Eastern religions, replete with ultra-high-pitched mock-Chinese-style vocals and a one-finger-on-the-piano melody that presumably mocks the Far Eastern scale or something. But Nina Hagen doesn't just have those bones to pick with the East, because the next song is 'Dread Love'... yeah, it's the one where Nina bellows out 'pu-rrraiiiiiiise the Lord.... every day... with DREAD LOVE!'. And then there's 'Future Is Now', a basic 1-2-3-4 soul melody alternating with pop/music hall/whatever sequences. To me, the track sounds like a cool parody on David Bowie at his "sci-fi-istest". The sick humour of the album's "heaviest" number, 'Radio Erevan', would, I guess, only be understandable to those who had a lot to do with the Soviet camp back in the days (remember Nina Hagen stemmed from East Germany, right?), but that doesn't mean even those who can't tell Russia from Botswana won't be able to enjoy the spooky atmosphere of the tune. Hey, how can one remain calm and steady after hearing that hoarse creepy whispering voice hissing out 'he knows that Mr Brezhnev is planning a reunion'?

The album's highest point to me is 'Iki Maska', a somewhat more 'stable' composition, in fact, one that could be titled a 'groove' as it just keeps repeating the same steady rhythmic pattern throughout, against which Nina pins all of those countless vocal overdubs. Some are almost on the level of the ultrasound, some are whiny and whimpy, some operatic and powerful, some are bass-heavy punkish roars. I can't tell a single word throughout (except an ununderstandable 'spiders from Mars' reference in one place), but all the English-German melange sounds so unbelievably cool, so incredibly schizophrenic, and actually so goddamn inspired, it's hard to dismiss this as dumb folly. 'Cosma Shiva' is almost as good, carrying on the line of 'Taitschi-Tarot' as far as I can understand (and borrowing the riff of the Doors' 'Changeling' to carry the melody, too!).

Again, I'm not totally sold on every song on here ('Dr Art', for instance, sounds a bit tired and even 'boring' after 'Iki Maska'), but unless you expected Nina Hagen to necessarily branch out in different directions on this album, it's extremely consistent... once more. I guess the album title's kinda brave, too, at least for the Catholic slice of the population. I do feel that Unbehagen was a bit 'braver' as far as the actual music was concerned (what with the reggae experiments and so on), but on the other hand, you'd have to know German to get the most of it, wouldn't you?



Year Of Release: 1983

No! NO! NOOOO! NOT GIORGIO MORODER! This gotta be Nina Hagen's biggest, and most tragic, mistake so far - in desperate search of publicity, or hits, or "coolness", whatever, she teamed up with the infamous disco-shmisco guy. And out of all the Moroder/non-Moroder marriages I've heard so far, this one was the most devastating. I'm sorry, but the days of disco pioneering were long over; it was one thing to do all those Donna Summer records, it was another thing to provide the Sparks with inspiration for their late Seventies creative works, but for Nina Hagen, the transition to generic disco was pathetic.

I mean, the music on here just isn't interesting at all. Instead of the former Nina Hagen band, with great guitar rhythms and soloing and stuff, you get a bunch of sterile pseudo-funk tracks, most of which were already dated by 1983 standards. True enough, the lead-in track 'New York New York' did become a solid hit in contemporary discotheques for some time, but that's about it. The theatricality and conceptuality of the album might still be Nina Hagen, but the music is entirely Giorgio Moroder, and that makes me wonder how seriously was Nina actually involved in the musical component of her early classic German records. I guess I've been giving the Nina Hagen Band less credit than they actually deserved.

Of course, it's a rare thing when Nina's creative nature can be caught in a particularly uninspired mood. What pisses me off so much is not that it's a bad record - it's that Moroder's generic disco backing and Nina's eccentric lyrical/vocal outbursts just don't fit together. It's like taking, say, Eric Clapton's brilliant guitar playing and putting it into the hands of Phil Collins to produce a nightmarish piece of synth-pop schlock "graced" by ridiculously incoherent bits of guitar greatness (remember? August and all? Pulling out individuality and personality like rotten teeth?). And the same thing happens here.

Another problem is that by 1983, Nina was getting more and more batty, to the point that nobody could really judge whether she was taking her "post-modernist mysticism" seriously or not. Ever tried reading a Nina Hagen interview? Usually, in these interviews she sounds like somebody who's read a bit too much Indian philosophy before bedtime and became waaay excited with the imagery and all the long names and concepts without actually getting deeper in the culture. It can easily throw you off the track, it can piss you off, too. Arrogant attitude, too. And this - here's the lyrics to 'Silent One': 'I am one with the One Life of the universe, I am an eternal being, I am one with the source of all Love'. I mean, the basic reaction is to judge this stuff as being solidly tongue-in-cheek, but hold your horses, with Nina Hagen, you can never tell.

And if this doesn't baffle you, there's Nina's first serious venture into the world of hip-hop called 'What It Is' (okay, so it's not really hip-hop because the rhythms are the same funky ones, she just raps over 'em). It's like a four-minute lecture on individual philosophy, where pretty much all the topics are touched upon - from Nina's vegetarian diet ('to eat a sad cow is to eat another dude') to anti-alcohol and anti-drug diatribes ('cuz when you pop drugs you cop an attitude, it's an ugly fake it's not the real you') to anti-pollution to anti-racism to fighting for equal rights to global cosmic expansion to WHATEVER THE HELL!!!! Now really, I don't need to take no shit from Nina Hagen - I like the way she slurps her way through the 'what it is what it is' chorus, but really, that's a little bit too much. It's like she's starting a religion or something. A religion powered by Giorgio Moroder? Really, I'd better eat a sad cow, horns and hoofs and all.

Yeah, of course there are some good songs on here. 'I Love Paul' is a lot of fun, catchy and overtly hilarious - 'in front of your grace, I feel like pigs in space' gotta be one of the best lines ever written. (Okay, so I have a pig bias, I confess). 'Springtime In Paris' is fast, concise and pictoresque in a perverted way, making fun of traditional Parisian stereotypes. The bits of yodeling in 'The Change' are good. But really, my honesty factor is pressing me to tell this here big secret: Nina Hagen rarely operates in highlight/lowlight categories. These songs are, in fact, all displaying creativity as far as the lyrics and their acoustic realization goes, and they all, or nearly all, suck as far as the music is concerned.

In fact, I could probably even give this a higher rating if not for the fact that I hate preachiness more than anything else, and 'What It Is' is just so annoyingly preachy I lose my nerve every time. Here's half a star off, never to be regained. Oh, and if you're after trivia and all, the record was originally released in German, called Angstlos, naturally; my version of it is a special Brazilian (!! - you never know how things might turn out) edition that includes all the English tracks and about half of the same tracks sung in German, plus a special seven-minute ultra-dance mix of 'New York New York' for weird Krishna-adoring meat-rejecting drug-condemning cosmic-attuned guys and gals to shake their booty to. Not that it makes the overall feelings any warmer, mind you, but just in case...



Year Of Release: 1985

Whew, that was close. Ekstasy still has some dancey stuff on it, but see, Nina's problem is not exactly with dance rhythms, but rather with trying to recast herself as a performer primarily destined for nightclubs and discotheques. Now, though, Giorgio Moroder is happily missing in action, and Ms Hagen manages to again recapture a large chunk of her former eccentric self. Count this as a weak four stars, though, because frankly speaking, I'm not sure In Ekstasy can be counted on the level of Nina's early groundbreaking work. It's stunningly diverse and variegated, and most of the songs rule, for sure, but overall, it sure sounds less smart and, if you wish, less profound than even something like Nina Hagen Band. Where her early albums were eccentric, inventive, and complex kitsch, In Ekstasy is just kitsch without any true inventiveness or complexity, at least when compared to you-know-what.

In fact, at times Nina seems to find herself in amazingly flat-footed mode. There's no doubt that some fans of her will get their kicks out of 'Russian Reggae', for instance, but me being a Russian and all, I find this song extremely cheesy, much more so than 'Radio Yerevan'. There's just something that irks me completely the wrong way with Nina's attempts at ridiculing the Soviet Union in that song (nah, hold your horses, it's certainly not right-wing patriotism). To be precise, chanting 'kalinka kalinka kalinka moya' (the proverbial "Russian folk song") just gets on my nerves as the cheapest trick possible, and there are multiple other problems with the song that obviously demonstrate Nina wasn't really trying when coming up with all these spoofs. Of course, the song is oriented on the Western market (and specifically at the American one at that), so feel free to detach me from my cultural bias.

Fortunately, the rest of the songs are less spiffy - even if most of them are pretty straightforward. Well, I guess I could do without Nina Hagen's cover of Sid Vicious' cover of 'My Way': the idea of a "cover of a cover" itself is kinda fun, but where I definitely can see the point in Sid doing that stuff (nothing could be more 'rotten' and 'degrading', see, than one of the least traditionally talented persons in music doing a song of one of the most traditionally talented ones), I don't exactly see Nina's point. Paying posthumous tribute to Sid after all those years? Well, it's goofy anyway, but geez, when Sid sings it, you know he can't sing, that's what makes it so interesting. Nina Hagen can sing, ever so much. So whassup?

Then again, heck, it's pretty useless to ask Nina Hagen to have a point. It's much better to just dig in the songs. 'Universal Radio' is the "dance hit single" here (also available in an enormous seven-minute extended club version as a bonus track on the CD), and it's an excellent chunk of electronic funker that beats the shit out of any given Madonna song. You wanna have an adrenaline-raising synth-popper to blow your brains away? 'Gods Of Aquarius' will do just that, with its unbeatable 'love, love, never get enough' chorus. Or maybe you just want some good old hard rock? '1985 Ekstasy Drive' is easily the heaviest song recorded by Nina in all, with chuggin' Budgie-like guitar riffs and a little bit of hair metal guitar soloing to boot. 'Prima Nina In Ekstasy' is a little bit of spoofing on Hagen's much-hyped status as the "Mother Of Punk" - you could never tell whether she's actually flattered by the title or ridiculing it by merely listening to the tune (which isn't actually punky at all, but given the constant refrain 'I'm the mother of punk, so what the funk?', that's not too surprising).

I guess the only more or less 'serious' number on the album is 'Spirit In The Sky', another overproduced disco sendup in the vein of Fearless (but much better than most of that album), and dealing with the question of the afterlife. Of course, lines like 'gonna have a friend in Jesus' betray the tongue-in-cheek character of the song (to my knowledge, Nina might have been everything in her life, but she never seemed to be a Jesus freak), but she does nurture an oddball half-populist, half-goofy kind of spiritualism, and no matter how tongue-in-cheek a Nina Hagen song can sound to you, you never know whether she's really making fun of something or actually believing in that something in her own eccentric way. (An approach she shares with such a different band as Gong, I guess).

And then back to cheeseball delicious - 'Atomic Flash Deluxe', with its sinister atmosphere and menacing repetition of the title, and the Khachatourian-based 'The Lord's Prayer', a hundred times better than the Siouxsie & The Banshees song of same name because, unlike the Siouxsie song, it actually is a prayer! 'In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - go down on your knees and pray for peace!' (Sung to a fast punk reinterpretation of the Saber Dance, no less).

In short, quite a glorious collection of grooves, except that if you're a serious dude, you'll never think of Nina Hagen as anything more than a trashy kitsch artist if this is your first acquaintance with the album. There's none of the complexity of Unbehagen here, nor of the angry post-modernist sinner-saint musical philosophy of Nunsexmonkrock. I mean, heck, it's all in the title, it's Nina Hagen In Ekstasy. When you're in ecstasy, you don't care much about controlling whatever you're doing, and she lets her hair down on the album in a way she never did before. Which, I guess, makes it a formal throwaway, but at least I'd certainly take such a throwaway over the overtly calculated Moroder disco stuff any day.



Year Of Release: 1989

Nina took a strangely long delay from recording in the late Eighties: from 1985 to 1989, the only things the world got from her was a solid, but redundant best-of collection (Love) and, in 1988, a short EP called Punk Wedding which was appropriately recorded to celebrate her wedding and which I've never heard. Only in 1989 did she return to full-fledged recording again... and guess what, the moment was gone.

It's not as proverbially bad an album as it is sometimes called (and by 'sometimes' I mean 'by those five and a half of those eight and a half people who actually care about Nina Hagen in the music critics world'), but it's definitely sort of stale, if you get my drift. She actually picks up where she left off with In Ekstasy: trading her primary goofy inventiveness and complexity for goofy cheesiness and corny vaudeville "pop trash". Only while she did it with enough class and self-irony on that last album, the self-titled Nina Hagen does it much more bluntly, much more predictably, and with a couple of awfully low points which eventually made me downgrade the record even further (on a good day, this would be a weak three-star rating).

So as not to keep you waiting, I'll say that the album is listenable all the way through up to the last two tracks, where I usually prefer to shut down the device producing aural effects. 'Michail Michail' probably won't make you puke; as a Russian, it made me puke, many and many times over. It's an incredibly stupid AND totally unfunny five-minute rap/dance number apparently dedicated to Gorbachev, over the course of which Nina aptly demonstrates her knowledge of Russian (she's got one hell of a hideous pronunciation, though), starting with a tongue-in-cheek "greeting" to the man and his wife and then going off in all directions, blurting out juvenile nonsense, quoting from Russian dance songs, children's ABC books and God knows what else. Maybe to a non-Russian ear this will sound cute, or "peculiar"; for me, it's an overdone, disgusting piece of tasteless kitsch. I do admit, though, that Nina is not to take all of the blame - not being Russian, and having lived the previous ten years in the States instead of East Germany, she certainly would not have been able to tell the gem from the turd in this context. I do wish she'd at least shown the completed track to an intelligent Russian guy before putting it on record to her total embarrassment.

There's also her take on 'Ave Maria' which is nowhere near as repulsive but is every bit as useless. It's one thing when she parodies Sid Vicious' parody on Frank Sinatra; it's another thing when she takes on 'Ave Maria' which is pretty hard, if not impossible, to parody, and actually realizes this - so her version falls somewhere in between a heartfelt tribute and glossy kitsch, and gets lost on the listener (me, that is). I'd actually have liked it if she'd at least used all of her operatic potential on the song, but maybe she'd already started to lose some of her higher registers or something. Anyway, it's stooopid.

The other three covers are decent, though, can't complain about that. The "synth-funk" take on Janis Joplin's 'Move Over' truly lets rip, and actually makes me realize that Nina Hagen would be one of the very, very few female performers who'd actually look non-ridiculous on a suggestive Janis tribute album. (Of course, kitsch is kitsch, and Nina can't resist the temptation to insert a line from 'Mercedes Benz' in the middle of the proceedings, as well as the riff from 'Purple Haze' for no apparent reason... but this is forgivable, I guess). The traditional gospel number 'Hold Me' is a good laugh riot, just like in the old times. And the pop-metal rearrangement of 'Viva Las Vegas'? Hey, now we're talking! This version kicks SO MUCH MORE ASS than the Presley version! It's like it's being sung by a female analog of Judas Priest - until the cheesy poppy 'viva Las Vegas!' chorus, of course. Thumbs up for creativity.

As for the original numbers, they're kind of spotty as well, with high points and low points alternating all the time. 'Super Freak Family' is one of Nina's better late period rockers for sure, sort of like Bananarama meets Oingo Boingo, with a catchy chorus to boot. But on 'Love Heart Attack', it's like she's trying to go for an early period Madonna dance-pop number - again, the chorus is memorable, but it doesn't seem like she's so comfortable with the song. Then 'Live On Mars' is a predictable, but cute nostalgic reminder of her early "dance-cosmic mantras", and it's immediately followed by the braindead "Rock-Against-Drugs" number 'Dope Sucks', replete with generic 'just say no!' choruses. 'Only Seventeen' is perhaps the album's most serious and sincere number, the high point in songwriting, but it's followed by the lobotomized "socializing-rock" song 'Where's The Party?'. In certain ways, it's fascinating to see the lady running to and fro between complete lapses of taste and attempts at being taken seriously, trying to recapture the spark of old. In other ways, it's frustrating to keep switching between amplifiers and headphones all the time if you have somebody else in the room.

Just one request - don't be misled by the album being self-titled. It's not her debut album. I really hope nobody will ever dare to make this his/her first Nina Hagen buy, as one listen would be enough to turn you off Nina forever. If you do have all of the earlier records, though, get this for the handful of excellent tracks like 'Viva Las Vegas', 'Only Seventeen', and 'Super Freak Family'. Remember, I almost gave it three stars. Were I not Russian, I sure would have done so. But you know, splashes of patriotic vehemence occur in the strangest places indeed.


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