A happy second anniversary to RoyalArbor, or Writing Privacy as it became. There is plenty that could commemorate this, but there was only one winner. First, it’s time to take stock for a moment.
A Space for No-One?
I think a lot about what goes here. Writing privacy demands it. It’s an oxymoron of sorts: to write privacy is to publicize it. Andrew Marvell not only withheld his works from publication, but he also privately considered the role of the writer in the new public sphere of the seventeenth century. That someone capable of such lyric majesty was so determined not to share it gives a permanent awareness to what should be allowed to escape into public space.
As such, this place never needed to be about me. It has needed to be about pieces of research that tell a good story; about events or developments that have some form of interest extending beyond me; and about privacy as a wider interest. The reason I left my old space behind was because it had become for no-one but myself.
We all live intricate and complicated lives. Sometimes we benefit from escaping into the life of another via the medium of writing. But today is the age of hedonism and narcissism. Written culture today often serves to exacerbate the successes and failures of our own lives. It becomes so easy to feel devalued by comparing oneself to others. When I talk a lot, it is often a self-defence mechanism to stop people telling me what I’m lacking and to avoid what I’m scared of hearing: achievements, success, potency, prowess…
This space has existed for two years, but it has only felt alive for a small portion of that. It was never meant to be a place for intensive personal reflection, although that has filtered in. Really, an awful lot of writing is personal. But what I’ve come to learn over the last four months is how the personal and impersonal benefit each other.
Sometimes the personal does make a good story, even if it requires beautiful sub-stories to piece it together. Sometimes, it is being in the right place. Sometimes, tragically, it is about being in the wrong place. Sometimes, it is simply about being there. I am inherently thankful for those who follow what is shared here.
A Song for No-One (But Myself)
Writing the phenomenal private event in November 2010 sparked a revolution in the way that I came to understand the relationship between the engaged and the detached. It is one of so many ways in which Alphaville have enlightened me over the years.
And I have kept quiet on the subject since. ‘The Founder’ refused a review of the album. Music is a surprisingly ugly battleground, and this work did not deserve the barrage of defeat that it would face before it even turned up.
Everyone else has had their say. Opinions have been polarised and forthright. The launch was always going to make more of a difference for me. An event so rare and potentially unique, just being there felt ambassadorial. I was ingrained with a gratitude of approval, and a bias that I did not think would be appreciated in critical circles.
We make judgements on our tastes and on potential. Alphaville fans, by and large, are hard to please. The credibility of the band is no doubt raised by fans with high expectations, and fans would argue, rightly, that high expectations play a part in upholding great music. It is equally true that albums not selling platinum around the world tend not to be faultless. But it must be remembered that potential cedes to the actual.
Into this world we’re thrown
A lifeform without a home
Clowns in a circus called the material world
Gods without immortality, nothing to lose
Nothing to gain, nothing to keep
Shepherds of dreams, we are what we are!
[Alphaville, Astral Body]
Alphaville have been thrust back into national consciousness, perhaps in hope over expectation. The album charted superbly at #9 in Germany. Of course, there was a lot to talk about in fan circles, but there was more belligerence than I expected.
Marian Gold was accused of not listening to fans, and of ignoring what they wanted. But that was always grossly unfair. Everybody wants something different. How do you cater for that? And how do you hold your autonomy as an artist if you deliver a by-numbers commission of what your clientele claim to want? The only true common denominator was that fans wanted a new album. On that, they delivered, and how they delivered.
There were hopes and demands for the esotericism of Forever Young. But an echo of 1984 was never likely. A band so long without a record label need to produce what is commercially viable. Alphaville already faced an unthinkably hard challenge to produce a top #10 album. Producing for a wider audience is considerably harder than producing for only your fans.
Synth-pop is still in vogue, but it’s superficial. Alphaville have not sold out, but adapted. They need the sales, they want the bigger and better venues, and who can deny them that? There is still a big place for what they offer. The Killers forged a doorway with ‘Human’ in 2008 before vanishing, and recently Hurts have moved in with their dulcet melancholy (and occasionally dour) tones. Alphaville are a-ha’s natural replacements, and it would be criminal were they not to inherit more of the Scandinavian synth love affair.
Catching Rays on Giant needs little detail here. It’s heavily produced, giving it a deep, rich electro-synth sound. It’s catchy, with great writing and plenty of quirks. It’s balanced, with energy and cultured beats tempered by mellowness. And it’s complete: there are lots of stand-out tracks, with little propping up the album.
It’s a combination of the old and new. Tracks emerge from the relatively private Crazyshow; tracks written years ago now take centre stage; and the add-on ‘Forever Young’ is a delightful tongue-in-cheek reaction to the cover versions that have made the song popular for other contemporary artists.
The old and new also dominate the echoes and influences: we find shades of a-ha, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, the Pet Shop Boys, and even the more modern strand of electronica, Fischerspooner.
The release of the second single, ‘A Song for No-One’, coincides with the second anniversary of this space, and it is fitting that it commemorates it. The album version is sharper, yet the video edit is more defined. Played simultaneously, they are something to behold.
I look into myself. There’s nothing deep inside.
There’s an emptiness that I can’t seem to hide.
Well you and I can’t tell the wood from the trees,
So call me stupid if you please! Because
This is a song for no-one but myself…
It’s witty, light-hearted, camp, positively weird, and strangely introverted. It has its eccentricities, not least the Polari threaded navy throwing a sly wink at ‘Go West’ and past generations of British camp humour. Let nobody accuse Alphaville of not thinking enough. Alongside the long-running and successful Pet Shop Boys, they mask worlds of meaning in the guise of pop.
It suits me, and this space perfectly, and I’m unspeakably proud that I can speak through my favourite group in such an uplifting way.
There is a summary of Alphaville’s Catching Rays on Giants album launch party in November 2010 here.