After more than 15 years of living in the boho playgrounds of a few college towns and a major city, family reasons recently led me to relocate to the suburbs. And while this move to a town just a few miles from where I passed my teen years hasn't been as tough on my psyche as my whiny nature might lead my friends to believe, it has left me feeling the need to find my place in displacement lest I simply and reflexively snap back into my bored suburban-punk persona.
But then it hits me that, frankly, I've never really stopped being a bored suburban punk or, more accurately, new wave, man, which is a totally different head despite the passage of time. Sure, most of the old angst is gone (replaced by weary resignation, which is a lot easier on the nerves even if it sometimes makes it hard to get out of bed), and I'm hitched and have a mortgage now and all, but the book-readin', strategy-game lovin', Brit-music-listenin', baseball-diggin' fool I was at 14 is still me at 36. All of which serves as preamble to the fact that even though I know a bit of Spanish because the snobby kids took French back then, I've only rarely opted to listen to music in a foreign language not so much out of xenophobia (I'm a world citizen despite livin' in a shell) but because I value lyrics, even troublingly clichéd and/or stupid ones, a whole lot.
So a few months back, when I received Jelängerjelieber by German synthy poppy band Klee, my main thought was "good sound shame I have no idea what she's going on about," since I only made it through two weeks of German my freshman year of college. (Though I have been known to utter "Ich bin ein wassermelon!" at the most inappropriate of times.) And yet the musicians' ready-made hooks and the sexy sounds of Klee singer Suzie Kerstgens bored a hole through my heart, and I found myself listening to the album with surprising frequency, occasionally crafting mini-narratives in my head about what she was singing about.
When a newly updated version of the disc, now translated to Honeysuckle and
featuring three songs newly re-recorded in English, crossed my path, I dug back
into Klee. And I was pleasantly surprised (far more than I should have been,
of course) by how close the "meaning" of these newly accessible songs was to
what I'd inferred from their musical context. And what context, text and subtext
it is that Klee subject the listener to, mastering the fun sound of '80s technopop
but bringing it into the aughts (or at least the '90s) via the new-era power-trio
lineup of female singer backed by two men who twiddle knobs and strum strings
(see Portishead, St. Etienne, Black Box Recorder, ad nauseam).
Opening track "This Is for Everyone" (or, if you prefer, "Für Alle, Die") sets the stage for the dozen tracks that follow, with an opening vaguely reminiscent of Underworld's still-potent "Born Slippy," reverbed synth chords and reedy, echoey vocals joined by an incessant drum-machine beat, Kerstgens sending a wistful crush-note to the world's romantics, those who know the truth and the score and don't fear risk notions curiously at odds with the winsome but safe music the band makes even as it glides through with its easy charisma. The second of the newly Anglicized tracks, the regret-torn "A Thousand Ways," catalogs the dissolution of a relationship against a solid minor-key pop backing, gentle rhythm guitar cushioning an array of keyboard parts. The dancefloor-ready "Gold" brings a mechanical disco bassline that's downright Kylie-worthy, blending it with a languid, fluid lead guitar, staccato bursts of guitar drama and lead-bass riffing that New Order's Peter Hook would be proud to claim as his own. And, um, semi-nonsensical placeholder lyrics about how we're all golden or something that would also fit perfectly with Hooky's band.
Elsewhere on Honeysuckle, the song titles have been helpfully translated into English even if the lyrics are all, erm, German to me. Highlights include the mechanical stomp of "My Secret" and "As Long As You Love," the pretty balladry of "Two Questions," and the dreamy new wave of "Our Movie," which comes discomfitingly close to an outright lift of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." A few tracks, namely the vaguely metallic "Not Even Ten Horses" and the Nina Hagen-guesting "We Go Against the Flow" emphasize the Excedrin-inducing beat at the expense of the melody. But ultimately on this, their U.S. debut, Klee take us on a sweet journey strewn with dewy-eyed romance that falters only in those moments when the band's influences become overly apparent.