Friday, October 30, 2009

Brünnhilde meets R2D2 - Klaus Nomi

Klaus Nomi is, by any standards, a bit unconventional. He sings mostly 80s danceish popish music, usually in a high dramatic falsetto, mostly in staccato, giving him the sound of some sort of cross between a diva and a robot. He is usually backed by synths and electronic beats, but sometimes there’s a classical backing thrown in, like a harpsichord tingling away with the chords of a sad, funereal song by Purcell, or maybe all of that is discarded and he sings an operatic aria as if he was really singing, well, an aria in an opera.

And that is how I would describe his debut 1981 self-titled album in one paragraph, if I had to. But, fortunately, I don’t have to do it one paragraph and certainly Klaus Nomi needs and deserves much, much more than that.

Klaus Nomi had a tragically short artistic career – dying far, far too soon, in 1983, only two years after releasing this, his first album. Have a little wander through YouTube and you will see what an amazing performer he was – pushing the boundaries of theatre, music and, not least, gender, but doing it in a way that showed brilliant artistry even more than an urge to challenge or provoke.


When he puts all those skills together onto an album you end up with something pretty amazing. It’s not quite pop turned into opera, and it’s not quite opera turned into pop, and it’s definitely not something in the middle. It’s something completely unique, sounding like all of that, and none of it, at once. It’s as if someone has taken the best bits of both music worlds, thrown them up in the air, captured the bits that fly the highest, and has put it all through the wacky, batty blender of Klaus Nomi.

He includes some clever little takes on his own name – like in his version of ‘You don’t own me’, where the title line sometimes transforms to “You don’t know me (Nomi)”. Everything is just a little bit naughty, a little bit silly, and a big bit bizarre – but, if you don’t mind things that sound zany, chances are you will just love the loopy kooky originality of these songs – full of electric energy that transports you to another world, where the sky is green and the sea is purple and clouds are crimson and everything is just different.

And it’s that electric energy, along with that striking operatic/robotic sound of Klaus Nomi’s singing, and the incredible theatre of his performance, that makes this album such a captivating one, rather than just an interesting one or just a fun one, even though it is all of that as well. So, after hearing his versions of things like Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist’ or Kristian Hoffman’s ‘Total Eclipse’, or anything else for that matter, you always want to hear just one track more, and just one more after that, just to see what he’ll do next. And inevitably you find yourself thinking of this or that song from your past and wondering, “I wonder what he would do with THAT!!

But you ultimately only get to hear ten, and the last starts out as a relatively straightforward take on 'Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix' from Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saëns (the same aria, incidentally, that also appears on Muse’s latest album Resistance (3rd October)), but ends up in some strange orchestral implosion, turning all that grandeur to rubble.

It’s all very camp, of course – but it’s also very German and I suspect it was because of the latter, rather than the former, that Marty R recommended it to me. But, in any event, I’m glad he did, because Klaus Nomi, the love child of Wagner's Brünnhilde and Star Wars' R2D2, is just bursting with fun and flair.

3 comments:

  1. You can read my story about Klaus Nomi here...

    http://www.geocities.com/kahniverous/klausnomi.html

    All the best,

    Madeline

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  2. Thanks for the post Madeline but, for some reason, the URL brings up a page saying that that site is no longer available.

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  3. Unusually for me, I WAS able to get to the site, but it consisted of a quote from your man Nomi and a very good video. No story from Madeline.

    Nomi's quote included this, which I like: 'pop and rock, which you would think has no rules at all, is really just as conservative as classical music. So what I do is doubly shocking. The difference is that punk audiences admire that I can shock them.'

    Hmmm. Is it enough merely to shock? Kiss and Metallica set out to shock, in their times, but did/does this make their music more or less interesting? If the point of the music is to shock, then we return to Dada - which was/is never more than an arcane cult, despite rejecting the label 'avant garde'.

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