I have done a number of posts that are book reviews (some related to music – such as Pet Shop Boys: Literally and Pet Shop Boys versus America), a post talking about the albums have influenced me most, a post about seeing U2 in concert in Japan, hinted at how music comes into my novels, and there are those related to Frankie Goes To Hollywood, specifically Welcome to the PleasureDome, and the book that I am writing about Frankie fans and Frankie’s music. What I haven’t done before here (just on Amazon) is an album review. This is largely what this post will be, but I will provide some additional context and information too.
The album I am discussing is Strings Attached by Berlin. As I noted in the post about the albums have influenced me most, Count Three and Pray by Berlin is one of my favourite albums of all time and I’ve never understood why it didn’t do better and get more recognition. Of course this album includes Take My Breath Away and that is the song for which Berlin is best known (perhaps exclusively known in many cases), but for those who do have this song on an album, I suspect the majority have it on the excellent Top Gun soundtrack album rather than the band’s album. But there really is more to Berlin than Take My Breath Away and their association with Top Gun, and Take My Breath Away is neither my favourite Berlin track nor is it for the majority of Berlin fan’s from what I can tell from discussions on social media.
So let’s begin with a short summary about Berlin themselves for those who are unfamiliar with them. Despite the name, the group has no particular connections with Germany. The name comes from the style of music – a type of new wave sound akin to that which was coming out of Germany in the 1980s and so it was thought that a German sounding name would help market the band (at least this is what is tells me on various websites). In many ways the name fits (and is memorable in its own way), but it does cause a lot of problems when doing a search for Berlin on the internet… even for music, thanks to the amount of classical music, in particular, that comes out of Berlin (the reasons for flagging that up will become clear later). Often it is easier to search by using the name of their lead singer (for almost the band’s whole history), Terri Nunn. The Take My Breath Away people among you will probably remember Terri for her distinctive hair style… and the science fiction geeks will know of Terri as she nearly got the part of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movies. The other two key members of the band are John Crawford and David Diamond (for full details of band line-ups and changes, see the Berlin entry on Wikipedia). The band, like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, broke up in 1987. But, unlike Frankie (which was a near-miss if the programme is to be believed), the band reformed thanks to the VH1 series Bands Reunited. Ignoring live albums and compilation albums (to be discussed further below), the band has had as many (or more) albums since they reformed in 2001 (4 or 5) as they did in the 1980s (4 – of which one was with a different lead vocalist).
Top Gun came out in 1986, so I assume that is when I first came across Berlin. I certainly had the album. But I cannot remember when I bought Count Three and Pray. My assumption is that it happened when I got tickets to see them support Frankie Goes To Hollywood in concert in January 1987 (subject for another post one day) and wanted to familiarise myself with their music. What a great decision that was. I was hooked, but without things like the internet, I didn’t know much about the band and didn’t manage to get their other albums (particularly hard to do in rural Shropshire). By the 2000s, however, I had managed to get all of their albums and was delighted as they re-started and then continued to make new music. Part of me thinks it’s a shame that there was a huge gap between 1987 and 2001 when David, John and Terri weren’t making new music together. But another part of me thinks that the gap allowed the band members to develop and reach a place where they could make the excellent music they are now. Perhaps, had the band struggled on into the 1990s, we would have ultimately seen less releases and not seen this latest release Strings Attached.
The first thing to sort out with Strings Attached is whether this should be considered a compilation album or not. There are essentially no new tracks here – other than a lovely introductory (instrumental) one. What we have are versions of some of their best songs that combine their new wave sound with a classical orchestra. So it would be tempting to call it a compilation – but it is not a collection of previously recorded tracks. It could also be tempting to treat it as a remix album. But (and I know this may not be a popular view with all Berlin fans), I would like to suggest that these versions are not remixes, rather that they are the ultimate versions to which the tunes were destined or deserved to evolve. All the previous versions (without wanting to detract either from how good they were or how well they fitted on the particular original album they were on) were the prototypes.
Part of what may be driving the way I view Strings Attached is that we’ve all got older. The sound works now – but perhaps wouldn’t have done if I heard it as a teenager in the 1980s (not that all of the songs on Strings Attached had their original version written back then). By the same token, there are other tracks (not on Strings Attached) and original versions (of the ones on Strings Attached) that I love due to their nostalgic connections.
Bottom line, if I treat this as an album in its own right rather than a compilation album, I think it is the highest rated album I probably have. I use iTunes, and I cannot think of another (non-compilation album) where I have given 5 stars to as many tracks. For Berlin fans it is a wonderful addition to the collection. For those who aren’t yet familiar with Berlin, beyond Take My Breath Away perhaps, this is the album you need to get. And, by the way, the album contains the best version of Take My Breath Away ever, and it better be in the new Top Gun movie, Maverick, or I predict a riot (unless there is another Berlin song, I suppose).
I am not going to say more on the album itself, the reviews and details elsewhere provide information about individual tracks, so I don’t think I need to go through each one. Just get the album… but before you do, what does need adding is pointing out that there is more than one way you can get the album. You could just get the main album itself. But, you could (and should) get the whole box set.
As well as the main album, it includes three other albums, a CD single, and a signed postcard.
Unfortunately when I got the box set and imported the additional CDs into iTunes, there was no information about them on the central music database, so I had to input the track names, album name, etc. myself and use my own photos for the album art. A bit of a hassle, but not the end of the world (and something I assume will get fixed at some point).
The additional three albums are as follows…
The Orchestra and Vocal mixes – much like the original version, but without the additional electronic new wave influences. Sounds brilliant (of course).
The Orchestra Only Versions – like the previous version, but without Terri’s singing. Great for those times when you want some instrumental music on in the background.
The last of the albums is a Remixes and Alternate Versions collection. A bit of a mixed bag of tracks. Probably won’t listen to this CD as much, but glad to have the tracks and for them to come up on my playlists.
Finally is a CD single of Now It’s My Turn with a variety of remixes on it (including an additional one of On My Knees). I think that across the whole box set, there is only one duplicate track – one of the versions on the CD single also appears on one of the albums.
In addition to the music is a signed postcard by each of the band…
As you can probably see from the picture above (and as was confirmed by David himself in a post on Facebook when I made a comment about it), these are genuine signatures rather than mass-printed.
So, you really should get the box set (or ask a friend or loved one to get you it). Details about ordering can be found here.
Before I finish, just a couple of things to add.
First, I really hope that I will get a chance to see Berlin live again. I’ve not seen them since January 1987. I was due to see them in 2019 in London, but the concert was postponed to 2020 and then, thanks to COVID-19, was cancelled. Fingers crossed for 2021 or 2022.
Second, the box set has arrived just as I am finishing off my third novel, FOUR. I mention this as I won a Berlin T-shirt signed by Terri a few years ago as I was completing my first novel, Hijacking Japan (I wonder whether Terri ever did get the copy that I sent her).
The link between Berlin and my novels doesn’t end there… but that’s a subject for another post.
Finally, you will recall how I saw Berlin support Frankie Goes To Hollywood in January 1987. Well, the musical gods came together in 2020. On the day that my Berlin box set arrived, it was announced that the British Music Experience will be holding a special Frankie Goes To Hollywood exhibition in 2021. Some things are just meant to be. Hopefully that won’t be the only musical thing to look forward to in 2021… another Berlin new album of the calibre of Strings Attached, a concert or meeting the band would be amazing.