• Alphaville
  • Forever Young (Atlantic) 1984 
  • Afternoons in Utopia (Atlantic) 1986 
  • The Singles Collection (Atlantic) 1988 
  • The Breathtaking Blue (Atlantic) 1989 

Berlin’s Alphaville plays simpleminded, obnoxious synthesizer rock. On Forever Young, the trio’s slickly polished songs and vapid English lyrics (“Big in Japan,” “The Jet Set”) are at best inconsequential but often overbearingly dumb. The self-importance of singer Marian Gold’s overdramatic delivery only contributes to the band’s absurdity. While the title track comes within hailing range of a bewitchingly textured Ultravox sound, the album is otherwise insipid.

Whether it’s a language barrier or a lack of talent, the idealistic science-fiction concept of Afternoons in Utopia (which credits 31 musicians and vocalists in addition to the group itself — wasn’t technology supposed to make humans more self-reliant and efficient?) falls apart in a jumble of vague, frequently comical non sequiturs. While their imagination may be sailing off to Mars, Alphaville’s music (notably improved over the first LP, possibly the result of lineup changes and a new producer) remains firmly planted in a simple, tuneful generic dance idiom.

The Singles Collection assembles two mixes each of two tracks each from the trio’s two albums. (That means eight cuts all told.) If you need to hear ten minutes (each) of “Forever Young,” “Red Rose,” “Big in Japan” or “Dance with Me,” help yourself.

The Breathtaking Blue, co-produced by the venerable Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dream), introduces a new, suavely continental aspect to Alphaville’s music. Gold’s attempts to ape and mix Bryan Ferry, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie are appalling; the band’s concomitant efforts to swing on a jazzy acoustic tree prove equally futile. Typical of Alphaville’s haplessness, the album’s best track (“Ariana”) is an utter anachronism, a giddy echo of Abba-styled new wave pop. For those equipped with the proper equipment, the CD is graphics-encoded with hundreds of still photographs and illustrations.

[Ira Robbins]