Born in the early ’80s from the remnants of two Düsseldorf bands, Die Toten Hosen (literally, “the dead trousers”; idiomatically, “dead boring” or “bad in bed”) combined reckless spirit, roaring musicianship, think-big buffoonery and soccer-stadium rabble-rousing to become Germany’s biggest homegrown rock band by the end of the decade. Never settling for cliché or getting stuck in nostalgic ruts, the good-natured group has pushed forward with concept albums, can-you-top-this concert stunts and a calamitous food-fight image that has steered clear of dire disasters by clinging tenaciously to the safe side of the border where spirited abandon turns to chaos. Reliably entertaining and unpredictably outrageous, Die Toten Hosen will never do anything totally original, but its records — trademarked by anthem-like choruses that owe as much to Slade and Gary Glitter as the rebellious British bands that supplanted them later in the ’70s — are can’t-go-wrong propositions that wrong all rights and rock like crazy.
That said, Opel-Gang isn’t an impressive debut, rather a timid take on the Clash Pistols with too much pop and too little aggression. By Damenwahl, however, the quintet’s silly streak, confidence and sound (a mid-tempo rhythm-guitar précis of the slow-learners section of the class of ’77, it sometimes resembles the post-Rotten Pistols afterbirth) are in full effect. The cover pictures them dressed like Duran Duran and the Ants; “Disco in Moskau,” “Agent X” (a Glitter beat horribly rendered in English), “Helmstedt Blues” and a moronic drinking song, “Das Altbierlied,” capture the giddy mood. Even the streamlined rockers — “Verschwende Deine Zeit” (“Waste Your Time”), for instance — can’t help but mess about, paraphrasing “Telstar” and suchlike.
Ein Kleines Bisschen Horroschau (subtitled Die Lieder aus Clockwork Orange und Andere Schmutzige Melodien) is, as billed, a ridiculous concept album of original songs about Alex and his droogs; in keeping with the character’s obsession, Beethoven is the cover star, and a touch of his music crops up amid the accomplished and appealing rock. The ambitious and powerful 125 Jahre auf dem Kreuzzug ins Glück (something about a 125-year crusade for fortune) is a double-album whose cover painting is a Les Misérables tableau that depicts the corpses of Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley and Sid Vicious strewn in the snow. Besides a stack of typically catchy and rugged originals (including a new mix of the first album’s title track), the mature album significantly contains a version of “New Guitar in Town” (a 1980 Lurkers song on which Honest John Plain of the Boys originally guested) to which Plain — in the flesh — contributes a genuine London accent and his six-string imprimatur.
From small things, baby… For its next trick (the first to receive an American release), Die Toten Hosen broke what would shortly become common ground, choosing a knowing selection of British and American punk classics and prevailing upon representatives of the original bands to join them in the recording studio. With Joey Ramone singing “Blitzkrieg Bop” (ha-ha), Captain Sensible singing the Damned’s “Smash It Up,” Jimmy Pursey singing Sham 69’s “If the Kids Are United,” Wreckless Eric doing his own “Whole Wide World” and Johnny Thunders (in what proved to be his final session) joining ex-Dead Boy Cheetah Chrome and ex-Dictator Handsome Dick Manitoba to vent “Born to Lose” (plus a dozen more by/with the Boys, 999, Radio Stars, Flys, Vibrators, Eddie and the Hot Rods, etc.), the excellently performed and impressively reverent Learning English is less a tribute than a precise re-creation. The inclusion of instruction-record bits, one genuine ringer (the Rockafellas’ “Do You Remember”) and an original Pistols soundalike (“Carnival in Rio (Punk Was)”) sung by Ronnie Biggs (“Punk was a piss-up, punk was a punch-up/Picking your nose and chucking your lunch up”) stretches the concept slightly, but the album’s educational essence remains in place. The two American editions differ in cover art and content: the ’94 rerelease replaces the Lurkers’ “Just Thirteen” and Chelsea’s “Right to Work” with 125 Jahre‘s “New Guitar in Town” and “Diary of a Lover,” retrieved from a Johnny Thunders tribute album.
Back home, Die Toten Hosen made Kauf MICH! (“Buy ME!”), a diverse, mainstream effort that moves the band closer to the sound of early-’70s glam-rock. By solidifying stronger tom-tom beats and lightening the rhythm-guitar density, the brisk rock’n’roll of “Rambo-Dance” and such irresistible singalongs as “Drunter, Drauf & Drüber” and “Katastrophen-Kommando” become delicious memories of British bubblegum. The album is recommended to anyone — regardless of linguistic abilities — who still rues the day Mud vanished from the charts.
“Diary of a Lover” also crops up on Love, Peace & Money, Die Toten Hosen’s first (almost) all-English album of (otherwise) originals. There’s a trace of accent in Campino’s ferocious singing, but not enough to really notice amid Breiti and Kuddel’s big, loud guitars. A solid and invigorating album that crosses an old-school punk sound and Slade-like singalongs (with a few exceptions: the anti-fascist “My Land” is largely acoustic) for a hybrid that works on several intelligence levels. Proof that middle-finger attitude can be made cuddly without getting soft, the album ends with the anthemically inclusive “Chaos Bros.” Making like a Pistol-packing Bay City Rollers, the merry menschen declare that “every day for us is like a Saturday night” and announce their populist credo: “We belong to you!”