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Alphaville

+ {Marian Gold}

Do the names Hartwig Schierbaum and Bernhard Gößling ring a bell? Possibly as agents who would usher you through customs? Perhaps not, but in earnest, these two are better known as Marian Gold(vocals) and Bernhard Lloyd (keyboards), two mates who first met as part of a German art and multimedia collective dubbed The Nelson Community in Berlin, and were band-mates in the short-lived outfit Chinchilla Green. That dissolution led to Lloyd reforming with another keyboardist Frank Mertens; and Gold was asked to join as lead singer circa 1982. The trio began as Forever Young, but then decided on the ALPHAVILLE moniker, taking after a Jean-Luc Godard film.
On the strength of their demo, which included an early version of `Forever Young’, Alpha signed a lucrative international deal with WEA and their first single from 1983 was `Big In Japan’, an effort inspired by FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s Holly Johnson, and met with worldwide chart success. Their full length debut, 1984’s FOREVER YOUNG {*8}, ensued, and was noted for being chock full of moody, if not sometimes histrionic, German Euro-pop. Apart from the immediacy of `Big’ and the title track, (`Forever Young’ was re-released as a single in the US when singer LAURA BRANIGAN included the track on her album) Gold’s BRYAN FERRY-like vocals carried tracks like `Sounds Like A Melody’, `Lies’ and `Jet Set’ to a satisfying musical conclusion. It charted in several countries including the US, and shipped well over a million units.
Despite this early success, by the end of 1984 Mertens had departed and was replaced by Ricky Echolette, who took over guitar and keyboards. AFTERNOONS IN UTOPIA (1986) {*7} was a sprawling ambitious piece of work with nearly 30 different musicians actually performing material the trio had composed. No less than five singles, `Dance With Me’, `Universal Daddy’, `Jerusalem’, `Sensations’ and `Red Rose’ were taken from the release. It was treated by many as a concept album complete with cosmic references in the liner notes. It charted in six countries has shipped 500,000 units to date, and curiously enough charted a few places above its last showing on the US Billboards chart (#174) although lesser known to North American audiences.
For their third course, Alpha chose to incorporate electric guitar, saxophone, strings, and other more organic sounds under the guidance of producer KLAUS SCHULZE. THE BREATHTAKING BLUE(1989) {*6} received a mix bag of reviews, as some thought the band had gone astray from its core electronic sound. Gold himself even described the production as “difficult”, but that didn’t thwart their creative ambitions in enlisting a production team in lieu of traditional videography to create a project called Songlines, meant to correspond with each track on the album. One standout video, `Balance’, won an Academy award in 1990 for Best Animated Short Subject. But as mixed bags go, `Romeos’ was still the only charting single from the parent release and overall sales took a slight dip reaching about 400,000.
Gold released a solo album SO LONG CELEST {*6} in 1992, during a self-imposed hiatus and transitional period for the band. It was a playful indulgence yielding inspired choices such as `The Shape Of Things To Come’ by Scottish quartet The HEADBOYS.
For the first time in their careers, audiences were set to be treated to live performances. Finland and Lebanon audiences were the lucky first recipients although no one anywhere quite expected the rather low-rent PROSTITUTE {*4} in 1994. Apart from the single chart entry of `Fools’, this was a messy affair that had Alpha going back to the musical drawing board. However, with Ricky Echolette’s departure in 1996 amidst new production and the precipice of a world tour, things were thrown into disarray. Gold and Lloyd were also embattled with their label and, to an outsider, it was hard to see how SALVATION (1997) {*7} could be obtained. But out of tumult came what some called a return to form. The band had infused a techno-dance element that enhanced their synth pop roots. `Wishful Thinking’, `Flame’ and `Soul Messiah’ were all released, although nothing charted. But at this juncture in their career, Alpha had chosen to release their work independently. For what it was worth, 200,000 sales were accumulated world wide. Similar numbers were reached with the previous release, but the band was clearly in a re-energized frame of mind.
A couple years shy of the millennium, ALPHAVILLE commemorated 15 years in the business with an 8 disc retrospective, `Dream scapes’. The US was finally graced with the band’s live presence in Utah of all places, and duly documented this on a DVD titled `Little America’. 2003 saw long time member Bernhard Lloyd announce his exit from the group. Gold carried on with a new touring line up and CATCHING RAYS ON GIANT {*8} in (2010) broke the streak of remixes, live performances, and compilations that had been issued over the previous decade. `Rays’ picked up where `Salvation’ left off. `Song For No One’ and `I Die For You Today’ both charted, and this hadn’t been the case since `Fools’ in the mid 90s.
(c) MCS / CG Feb2015

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