Review of Alphaville, Eternally Yours (2022)

A defining test of any bands work is how well it stacks up when arranged for orchestra. Not every artist is suited to it, and fewer still will try. Eternally Yours celebrates the 40th anniversary of the birth of German synth-pop veterans, Alphaville, with a collection of new symphonised recordings accompanied by the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg.

The idea for this is not entirely new. Back in 2004, the celebrations for the band’s 20th anniversary featured a string accompaniment from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. More recently, singer Marian Gold has recorded versions of some of the band’s classic tracks with German performer Gregor Meyle and the Solis String Quartet. And a 2018 duet of ‘Forever Young’ with Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds also seems to have stirred the fires for a project that would bring new life to old masters.

Promotional image of Marian Gold, lead singer of Alphaville, in stone/clay, for the new album Eternally Yours (2022).

Now, the time has come to consolidate those dabbles into a lavish album, available in CD and an expensively packaged deluxe set which includes three gold vinyl LPs, a gold cassette, and enhanced digital copies, plus hand-signed prints, a large booklet with track-by-track annotation and photography of the band’s history, topped off with an Alphaville tote bag. It is a collector’s bounty.

Alphaville has faithfully kept limited edition boxsets away from free platforms, allowing fans to retain some value for their costly outlays, but this is a bold test of faith in a slow reconnaissance with vinyl. It’s the band’s first commercial release since the pandemic.

The known get the nod

Conceptually, Eternally Yours is cleverly thought out. The band’s best-known works get the limelight, and generally these are the most successful arrangements.

The album version of ‘Big in Japan’ comes with a grand introduction in strings that adds slightly spooky drama to its neo-gothic vibe. The single version comes with a new video paying homage to the original psychedelic affair, as Gold interacts over his younger self. The famous gong, one of the track’s defining characteristics, is retained at the end.

‘Sounds Like a Melody’ and ‘Dance with Me’ are both tried and tested as slower, more dramatic arias. The ballad edition of ‘Dance with Me’, which debuted at Salt Lake City in 1999, is completely different to the upbeat vibe of the original. Was that Gold’s epiphany moment that the band’s songwriting was potentially compatible with symphonic arrangements?

‘Forever Young’, the band’s best-known hit, also comes with a new video that captures aspects of the band’s 40-year history. It begins in grey before bursting into joyous colour. Original band member Bernhard Lloyd is spotted at the mixing desk. Current band members are among the musicians. It is the most overtly celebratory work of the album.

Back catalogue finds its calling

Beyond the headliners lies an interesting spectrum of reworkings – mostly ballads – of varying success. There is nothing from the past twenty years (with ‘Around the Universe’ being much older than its 2017 release), except for a new, previously unreleased title track, ‘Eternally Yours’, which wavers perplexingly between ‘Rosanna’ by Toto and the pulsing drive of ‘Live and Let Die’. If this was purpose-written for symphonia, it suggests that synth remains Alphaville’s home territory.

And yet, the bluesy lilt of ‘Summer Rain’ from The Breathtaking Blue – the 1989 album where keys weren’t quite versatile enough for the instruments they are emulating – would have you believe it was purpose-written for orchestra. It is the most convincing of the new recordings.

The treatment of undersold past classics is generally very satisfying. The enduringly nostalgic ‘Summer in Berlin’, recently given a modern remix by electronica duo Schiller, gets recast back in time. ‘Welcome to the Sun’, reprised for the 2018 concert at Hollywood’s famous Whiskey a Go Go, moves from an emotive woodwind-enriched lullaby to a Bolero-style march with a mix of lofty vocals and choral backing. The anthemic ‘Apollo’ gets a triumphant translation to strings, though it doesn’t escape the synthesiser entirely.

The more saccharine the track, the better suited it seems to these arrangements. ‘Around the Universe’ realises its destiny as a soundtrack hit to an old wartime classic. ‘Moongirl’ from the limited edition Crazyshow (2003) is reinvented from romantic ballad to child’s lullaby. It seems a little rushed in places, as if the belief is not entirely there. ‘Diamonds are Forever’, previously covered in Crazyshow, feels like a vanity addition, but it demonstrates Gold’s vocal prowess for stage and score. One suspects the cinematic world, especially in Germany, will come to recognise this too late.

The clearest divide of Eternally Yours falls where the original songs have a ready-made symphonic score. The minimalist ‘Elegy’, derived from a poem by long-time collaborator Janey Diamond, is elegantly recast from the original without much interference. The single biggest accomplishment of Eternally Yours might prove to be making this song commercially available for the first time. Alas, the same cannot be said of fan-favourite ‘Flame’, whose delicious synth-string melody is bewilderingly dismantled and replaced by thumping percussion in the second half. The song requiring the lightest touch inexplicably gets the most heavy-handedness.

If we’re to talk about what doesn’t quite belong, there’s also a case for what is missing. While ‘Diamonds are Forever’ adds little, this album was the perfect platform for one of Alphaville’s finest works, ‘Still Falls the Rain’, which is still not widely available, or the maudlin ‘First Monday in the Y3K’. Both became heavily associated with the passing of late band member Martin Lister (d. 2014), which makes it even more surprising that neither made the list.

Cold comforts

New music from Alphaville is always thought-provoking and always made with love. Yet, it still tends to be divisive. Eternally Yours is no different. Hardcore fans will love some of these arrangements and loathe others, but there’s no loss in that. It’s far better than general indifference.

The defining feature of the new romantic movement, we’re told, is the marriage between the ‘cold’ synth machine and the ‘warm’, emotive vocals of Marc Almond, Andy McCluskey, Gold, etc. But that contrast has always undersold both the music and the machine. Alongside OMD’s pensive ‘Joan of Arc’ and Talk Talk’s poignant pop, Alphaville’s works have always been capable of the emotive qualities we’re led to believe aren’t possible from a synthesiser.

The true epiphany Eternally Yours brings is a new way to appreciate Alphaville’s back catalogue and the band’s ability to create emotive synth melodies. While the strings and co. are an intriguing sideline, the original works remain the star. The band now looks forward to the live shows next year with the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg and a forthcoming album, Thunderbaby. It remains an enjoyable journey through the bucket list of ambitions.

Gold’s studio voice – the one thing the band can never replace – remains masterful, rangy, and far younger than his years. Gold has said that he is starting to feel his age as a singer and that his powers are waning. But there’s no sign of that here. As long as this remains, long may it all continue.

Alphaville’s Eternally Yours is available on Spotify and on-demand services (country-permitting), and through Neue Meister and major retailers.

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