Various Artists - Falco: Sterben um zu leben (Review)

Martin_Canine
VARIOUS ARTISTS
Falco: Sterben um zu leben
★☆☆☆☆

It’s painful, it’s offensive, and it’s sad: it’s famous German rappers presenting songs based around classic Falco tunes. It’s essentially the bonus tracks of Thriller 25, when Kanye West and Fergie presented their visions of Jackson songs, just with an Austrian legend and at full album length. It’s not a far stretch: in both cases, the artists aren’t per se bad, just the outcome is. The album is titled after a line from Out of the Dark, the posthumously released lead single from the album of the same name, which Falco was currently working on when he died. It’s a line that became iconic, not only because it sparked theories of his death having been a suicide, but also because of the tragedy that lies in it: it means “Die to Live”. The whole line goes “Das weiße Licht rückt näher, Stück für Stück, will mich ergeben / Muss ich denn sterben, um zu leben?” (“The white light comes closer, bit by bit, I want to surrender / Do I have to die to live?”). The bitterness of this line became synonymous with Falco’s sad but huge legacy. An eccentric, controversial rock star and the nation’s biggest hero, who died way too soon. Still, twenty years after his death, his best of compilations and retrospective live albums top the charts, and every year on his birthday or death anniversary all of his albums get reissued and are prominently placed in every store, whether they sell music or not. I sense a national holiday around Falco will come soon, it’s just a matter of time. And now, a bunch of German rappers ignores the whole “rest in peace” thing and wants a piece of the cake - but not the wannabe hip hoppers who land a hit on the net and then get forgotten, no, these are actually quite good ones, which makes the outcome even sadder.

Want a few impressions about what you get on this record?

Ali As turns Jeanny into a stalker / abuse anthem - and although the original song, is indeed about murder, the trivialization of the subject matter hurts. In the original Falco takes the persona of a mentally disturbed man who is obsessed with a young woman called Jeanny, imagining her to feel love for him too, when it’s implied he has killed her out of passion, which he himself doesn’t realize. It’s a dark piece full of emotions, and it’s definitely nowhere near gangsta territory - the actual death is not even explicitly mentioned. Now, Ali As keeps the premise of being in love with a woman - just that on here, he’s a gangsta in a street gang who threatens to shoot her if she doesn’t become his lover. I know what he’s trying to do here: he wants to create a modern day adaptation of the topic (which is more than can be said about most of the others), but he completely the misses the point. The role Falco played in the original wasn’t cool, wasn’t a thug and didn’t try to threaten her. His brain was completely out of touch with reality, and the lyrics are twistedly romantic. The haunting chorus of Falco’s masterpiece starts off with “Jeanny, quit living on dreams / Jeanny, life is not what it seems”. You know what Ali As, in all his autotuned glory, sings (translated from the German)? “Jeanny, you are my codeine / Your tears are purple like the sprite with the lean”. It deeply hurts my soul.

In 2017, I named SpongeBozz’ double album Started From the Bottom / Krabbenkoke Tape the third greatest album of the year. It was a magnificent show off of multisyllabic rhyming, alternating and varied flows, and great musical production. In other words, it got the most out of the genre of hardcore hip hop that was possible. In 2018, he changed his name back to his underground pseudonym Sun Diego, put on 164 layers of Autotune, slowed down his tempo, reduced the syllables (not just the rhyming ones), chose a standard trap beat and decided to inject a few completely unrelated “Amadeus, Amadeus” shouts into a song essentially about how he hates the German rap scene. Uh huh. Also: where is his energy? As SpongeBozz, he always sounded aggressive and determined to rock the game - as Sun Diego he sounds as if he was high on sleeping pills. It’s one of the strangest moments of the first half of the year, in the most negative of ways. It also contains one of the most puzzling lines: “Ich hasse dieses Leben so wie Falco” (“I hate this life just like Falco”), another forced mentioning of the legend. Sunny… or Spongy… or whoever you may be now: please don’t let this be the sound of your third album.

Speaking of Autotune, the real pain comes with Macho Macho by Jugglerz. It is pure blasphemy - it actually adds Autotune to Falco’s notorious voice. I have never been one to pan this effect per se. On several songs, it absolutely fits, but there are times when it is absolutely out of place, and a Falco tribute would be such a moment - especially when it occurs on the master’s voice itself. That's essentially the problem with all of the album: the rappers completely ignore what this project is all about, namely honoring a great star.

But the absolute low point of this parade of bad decisions, musical cluelessness and missing respect comes from the man I have expected to deliver the highlight: Sido. He is one of Germany’s most legendary rappers, and ever since his debut in the early 2000s he surprised with showing different facets in his music, ranging from light hearted songs to intelligent conscious rap to outrageous shock humor. And most importantly, in the past she showed a great feeling for sampling classic tunes of the German language and turning them into good new music. On 1000 Fragen, Tic Tac Toe’s anti-heroin ballad Warum? was transformed into a song about questions about life, and on Erwachsen sein he expanded on the idea of Peter Maffay’s Nessaja about not giving up your inner child - all over atmospheric oldschool beats keeping the original tone but classily updating them. But his Der Kommissar version is a complete mess, music wise and lyric wise. The beat is one of the most boring and uninspired trap productions ever found on a professional record, Sido who is known for a classic flow adapts the modern trends of vocal delivery, and in the chorus it randomly cuts to an unfiltered vocal sample of the chorus of Falco’s classic track. At least Sido also raps about a police inspector, just like Falco. But the context is different: Falco sings about the Viennese underground and a gang of young 80s kids who snort cocaine, being afraid to be captured by the police, while Sido raps about a police officer who abuses his power to get Sido arrested because he hates his guts, along with such nasty puns as “I got water in my backpack like a camel” (hey, it also “works” in English!). As if that wasn’t enough, it randomly cuts to Falco’s original verse in the last minute, which, as I mentioned before, has nothing to do with what Sido’s lyrics are about.

But there is also some potential on the album, it just shows too rarely to save the project. Conscious hip hop group Zugezogen Maskulin created a track about social classes, with poverty and luxury next to each other - if only they didn’t base this around Junge Römer and use an uplifting synth pop beat. With Haze’s No Time For Revolution it is the other way around: the music and the beat make a perfect dark gangsta rap song that makes only minimalistic use of Falco’s vocals. But what is this doing on such an album?
The only song that fully works and gets the maximum out of the concept is Nazar’s Zwischen Zeit und Raum. It is the only instance where Falco doesn’t feel like a sample but a duet partner. Nazar and Falco take turns on the mic, and the modern rapper’s lyrics are just as mystical and poetic as the 80s rock star’s. It’s as if this song was written and composed to sound just like this, and it never feels as if Falco was used as a gimmick, but as if he was really there.

So, let’s come to the conclusion. It’s just fine that a bunch of popular artists want to pay homage to one of the greatest and most iconic German language music artists of all time. Actually, this might could have been an emotional tribute to showcase their love for one of their favorite musicians. Punk band Die Toten Hosen did that with a rock cover of Rock Me Amadeus on a disc where they covered songs by artists who inspired them. But what the project actually turned out is a chaotic and unfocused mess with several songs that feel as if the rappers grabbed a bunch of outtakes of their regular albums and cut Falco vocals and/or references in between, ir rather violently jammed them in. Sometimes the mood, lyrics and sound are so far off the original songs that it feels like the producer accidentally pushed the wrong button and switched to the next song on the playlist, which just happens to be a Falco song. It’s an extremely unpleasant listen, whether as a tribute CD or as a German hip hop album.

Comments

You are going to review the albums we suggested to you right? Can't wait! - Not_A_Weeaboo

Yes, I am. I already reviewed the Kylie album that some people voted on and am currently working on the Charlie Puth review. What albums were you suggesting again? - Martin_Canine

My XXTentaction review has just been released! Thanks for suggesting the album. - Martin_Canine

? By XXXTentacion - Not_A_Weeaboo

Then that'll be the next I'll review.
First comes Charlie Puth, and I personally also want to review the new album by Angelo Kelly I just recently heard, I am working on them simultanously, and then I will review the XXXTentaction record. - Martin_Canine

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