OK, so despite knowing that any reasons I give to explain why I like Falco are likely to be false, I’ve now reached a point where I have to explain why I like Falco. This could be a bit difficult.
Further complicating factors: I don’t speak German, so my understanding of what any of the songs are actually about is limited, and even if I did understand the lyrics, I don’t really have any idea of the social, cultural or political environment which inspired them.
When, in 1985, [Eno] and John Cage were talking about their shared distaste for music that comes too heavily laden with intentions, Eno added, “I have the same feeling about lyrics. I just don’t want to hear them most of the time. They always impose something that is so unmysterious compared to the sound of the music [that] they debase the music for me, in most cases.” 1
Not understanding the lyrics doesn’t have to be a problem and could actually be a benefit. I usually listen to music at work, or on the tube while reading a book. I don’t really want any words entering my brain and distracting me, but I like the sound of human voices. Listening to lyrics in a language I don’t understand seems like a good compromise.
Certainly Falco’s debut single Ganz Wien loses some of its menace when re-recorded in English (although admittedly, the English version isn’t actually a direct translation). Written whilst Falco was in awful, self-indulgent, hairy drugrock outfit Drahdiwaberl; Ganz Wien quickly became a highpoint of the band’s set, and Falco got signed up (I think Drahdiwaberl also signed to the same label, but without Falco). However, in order to get any radio play, he was forced to not only to change the words but also to sing them in a different language after there was an outcry over the original lyrics. Even without knowing any German, it’s obvious he’s saying Vienna is on heroin and “coca-ine” and basically suggesting it’s not a very nice place to live – this theme would be continued throughout Falco’s first album, Einzelhaft:
Listening to the album, it’s quite obvious that Einzelhaft was inspired by Bowie’s Berlin trilogy (Falco, such a Bowie fan, specifically moved to Berlin to “follow the tracks” left by his hero). The first side of Low is the biggest general reference point (bits of Speed Of Life and Breaking Glass seem to appear throughout the album), but the most explicit Bowie reference must be Helden Von Heute, a hugely effective pastiche of “Heroes” which makes no effort to disguise its source of inspiration (the name of the song translates as “Heroes Of Today”). But what stops Einzelhaft from just being a Bowie tribute is illustrated by the song which was released as a double A-side alongside Helden Von Heute:
Borrowing a riff from Rick James, and influenced by Kurtis Blows and Grandmaster Flash, Der Kommissar was originally intended for Reinhold Bilgeri who felt it was “too soft”. Writer/producer Robert Ponger took it to Falco, they reworked it and it became number one throughout Europe.
The surprise success of Der Kommissar introduces the tragic irony at the heart of the Falco story. Falco was intimidated by the success of the record, by the pressure to follow it up with another hit. It paralysed him. There’s a scene the Falco biopic, Verdammt, wir leben noch!, where Falco explains his situation:
Everything that I record now will be compared to Kommissar’s success. Do you know what that means? A blank piece of paper is supposed to become a worldwide smash hit.
This scene might never have actually taken place of course, but it shows the thing Falco feared most. He feared becoming a one-hit wonder.
Unfortunately, Falco’s second album failed to capture the same level of success as his debut, despite it being probably the best record he ever made. Confident, sophisticated, slick European disco, filled with taught strings, funky basslines and excited brass. It also has a fantastic cover:
The Bowie influence is still there, but it’s a different Bowie. The Young Americans Bowie, maybe a bit of the Let’s Dance Bowie. The way he warbles “Never stop this old erosion, FANTASTIC VOY-AAAAAAGE!” at the end is a particular highlight:
To promote the album, Falco travelled to America to make a fifty minute long-form video, which has to rank alongside ABC’s Mantrap as one of the greatest pop follies of all time.
After the relative commercial failure of Junge Roemer, Falco parted from producer Robert Ponger to work with Bolland & Bolland. A pair of brothers from Holland, Bolland & Bolland had released a couple of singles of their own (including In The Army Now, later covered by Status Quo) before setting up a studio in the middle of the Dutch countryside. It was a collaboration which would at least guarantee that Falco wouldn’t have to worry about any more of his records being compared to the success of Der Kommissar.
Again, success came as a surprise. The two other singles released from Falco’s third album – Vienna Calling and Jeanny – while not reaching the incredible success of Rock Me Amadeus, performed well (Jeanny, which tells the story of the abduction and possible murder of a young girl, saw a boost in sales when the German Mike Read had it banned from the radio), but these songs had been written and recorded before global success. In fact, they’d been recorded at a time when Falco wasn’t really doing very well, as a sort of final roll of the dice. Falco’s next album would be the one which would be written and recorded by Falco, the international pop sensation.
The title track from Emotional is very clearly aimed at the American market, and suffers for that fact, but the rest of the album shows that Falco just can’t do it. He can’t just be a normal, sensible popstar. And so the rest of the album, instead of being a dozen versions of the title track (which I’m sure is what the record label were hoping for) bounces around all over the place. There’s an uneasy near-resolution to the story of Jeanny (“I would give anything to see Jeanny again – coming home”); an overwrought tribute to war photographer Robert Capa (“They know! Life is WHITE LIGHT! Slightly out of FOCUUUUUUUUUSSSSSS!”) and an insane, rambling, seven and a half minute fantasy about Kathleen Turner which starts out with Falco on a train to Brazil, mutates into a bit of mid-80s funk, then turns into a gospel chant, after which Falco solemnly tells Kathleen Turner “I’m just talking about, not the first kiss of my life, I’m talking about… our planet!” and finally the whole thing ends with a sort of military marching band thing.
There’s also this:
That’s got to be one of the greatest opening moments in pop video history. It’s fucking brilliant. The video also features something else I love about Falco: excellent finger work, possibly rivalled only by Jarvis Cocker. Fans of the anachronistic Napoleonic wear/sunglasses combo Falco wears at the beginning of The Sound Of Musik video will pleased to know it reappears in the video for Wiener Blut.
The last album Falco made with Bolland & Bolland shows Falco at his insane best.
Full of Fonz-like cries of “Ey!”, rrrrrrrrrrolled rrrrrrrrrrs (“Hit! Them! With yourrrr rrrrrrrrrrrhythm stick!”) and deranged yelps, Dance Mephisto is an exhilarating, slightly terrifying three and a half minutes of lunacy. Another song is about the sinking of the Titanic (in interviews, oddly, it seems like he identified with the ship):
“De! Ca! Dence! For! You! And! Me! DECADENCE!” I love the pointless over-exuberance of that video, it’s so needlessly over-the-top, so unnecessary. Never once did anyone say “OK, that’s enough now”. Just more nonsense poured on top of nonsense. This is what I love about Falco. Forget all that other stuff I’ve written. It’s this. This excess. There’s a scene early on in Verdammt, wir leben noch! where Falco visits a brothel with his friend Billy. Billy tells him that the most beautiful girls in Vienna can be found here. Falco asks if it’s expensive. “Depends what you want” replies Billy. “Everything, Billy, always,” Falco answers. “You know me. Always everything.”
“Always everything”. That’s what pop music should be, surely? And while the rest of the time, in the rest of my life, I might choose nothingness over somethingness, Falco represents a form of everythingness. Always everythingness.
1 Eric Tamm, Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound, 1995, p81