Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Trio - Trio


Released 1981 on Mercury
Reviewed by flashbackcaruso, 17/07/2013ce

Side 1
1. Achtung Achtung 0:30
2. Ja Ja Ja 2:57
3. Kummer 2:38
4. Broken Hearts For You And Me 3:33
5. Nasty 2:38
6. Energie 3:30
7. Los Paul 2:32

Side 2
1. Sabine Sabine Sabine 3:46
2. Sunday You Need Love Monday Be Alone 3:48
3. Nur Ein Traum 3:04
4. Ja Ja Wo Gehts Lank Peter Pank Schönen Dank 2:50
5. Ya Ya 2:15
6. Danger Is 2:14
7. TRIO 0:31

'Ich liebe dich nicht, du liebst mich nicht' - that's what we were walking around chanting back in the summer of 1982. I can't remember what my German mother thought of the fact that her kids were now voluntarily speaking the language after years of resisting her attempts to teach it to us. Perhaps Trio should have been teaching it in the schools, as their naggingly catchy minimalist pop record 'Da Da Da' managed to sneak a morsel of deutschsprechende into the collective psyche with the greatest of ease. 'Da Da Da' seems to have been enough to earn Trio their place in pop history, but go to YouTube and watch their brilliant performance on Top Of The Pops and it is quite clear that there is something more to them. The BBC laid on various extras such as a robot dancer and the words played out in time on background screens; they even handed out pieces of card for the audience to draw self portraits on and hide behind. But such distractions aren't necessary when Trio themselves are such a fascinating Pop Art exhibit in their own right. Singer Stephan Remmler looks superbly threatening with his shaved head, chewed gum and incisively nuanced body language. Guitarist Gert ('Kralle', meaning 'claw') Krawinkel rather wonderfully spends one verse lighting cigarettes and mounting them on the loose ends of his guitar strings. And perhaps best of all is drummer Peter Behrens, with his red braces, minimal quiff and blank expression; the television camera looking him up and down, scanning for signs of life and eventually discovering his foot kicking the bass drum in lieu of a pedal. It might be my favourite Top Of The Pops performance.

But it does any band a disservice to merely accept them as a one-hit wonder, and digging a bit deeper reveals that Trio had already put out an agreeably primitive debut album the previous year; an album which displays the purest expression of their minimalist aesthetic, stripping pop music of all its pretentions and embellishments and using the fewest instruments possible. No gloss to the production, no guitar solos, no bass. Interestingly, the person who ended up producing them was a bassist himself, and a very notable one to boot. Klaus Voorman, shaken by the murder of his friend John Lennon, had recently quit his home in New York and returned to Germany. Looking for a home-grown talent to work with, and having been a key contributor to Lennon's ultra-austere 'Plastic Ono Band' LP, his discovery of Trio must have seemed like a match made in heaven.

The no-frills approach is immediately evident from the album cover which looks as if it took no more than five minutes to design. Plain white, with the band's name (probably the most purely functional moniker they could have chosen) hand-written in large letters across the front, and the track-listing scribbled hastily on the back. And, in a neat move designed to break down the last remaining barrier between the band and their audience, Trio's private phone number and address are stamped across the front. Before you even play the record there is a strong hint of Neu! in the graphic design, and this promise is rewarded with the music itself, which in some ways harks back to elements of classic Krautrock - the ur-punk of Klaus Dinger on 'Neu! 2', coupled with the self-sabotage of Faust's editing techniques.

Despite the 'no guitar solos' rule, the whole album begins with one, and a pretty good one too, lasting all of 30 seconds and crudely edited out of the song 'Broken Hearts For You And Me' to open the album with a lack of finesse that immediately tells the listener that they should go elsewhere if they are expecting slick production values. Titled 'Achtung Achtung' it becomes the background music to an announcement shouted through a megaphone, the rough translation of which is: 'Warning! Warning! - Do not be fooled. Although it initially looks as if it were for your entertainment, it is ultimately that your sympathies and your money go to the Trio from this.' Ending as abruptly as it started, it is quickly followed by pulverising live recording 'Ja Ja Ja', which with just drums, guitar and vocals pre-empts what The White Stripes achieved 15 years later but at three times the speed. Remmler spits out the German lyrics with an attitude that makes me wish they were in the badly-translated English you get when you run them through Google Translate: 'If you think I'm scared/Kiss my ass first time/Do you think this is a good day/Do you believe me makes fun/Do you think you can keep yourself/Are you still there/Come on let's go shoot only once/Flash Gordon/Ra-ta-ta-ta ta ta ta bu bu bu bu' (the last line delivered as machine gun and bomb impressions). But of course the 'Ja Ja Ja' hook proves, as with 'Achtung Achtung', that German is the best language for minimalist chanting. And when he does switch to English at the end with the repeated lines: 'If you won't be my brother whatchu wanna be/If you won't be my sister whatchu wanna be', the effect is reminiscent of early Can at their most Kraut-punk. Within its short running time the song includes two false endings, stopping for brief audience applause before powering on again in brief bursts like an out-of-control machine that keeps breaking down and then stuttering back to life. Evocative church bells introduce the mournful 'Kummer' ('Sorrow') and set the pace for a slow, dirgey drums/guitar riff. The song briefly threatens to go into a heavy rock direction but the bells return and the song fades out quickly with a bizarre solo played on an electronic toy guitar. 'Broken Hearts For You And Me' opens curiously with a drum tattoo over which Remmler (in German) tries to organise a Marsch-Fox (a sort of military foxtrot) before mischievously singing 'And the monkey wrapped his tail around the flagpole/To show his asshole/To the one, two, three' which leads into the song itself, a staple from the group's formative period. The song is no great shakes but it gets by on the rawness and brevity of the version here. 'Nasty' lives up to its name, a brisk bit of rock'n'roll detailing (in English) how a relationship has turned ugly ('Evil's gonna turn out, evil's gonna turn out/Evil's gonna burn out my heart/Feelings that are old, feelings that are cold/Feelings that are broken apart'). Vocally Remmler is doubled up all the way by 'The Claw's higher register voice. A more meditative mood is created by the intro to 'Energie', with the sound of waves on a seashore and plangent Hawaiian guitar setting the scene for Remmler's description of a tropical beach scene with a punning reference to 'TRIO de Janeiro'. The mellow drum machine assumes a reggae pattern for a song that is far more conventional than anything else on the album, the stripped down arrangement just about keeping it from becoming too cheesey, although it's a close-run thing. An overproduced remake a few years later was much worse. No such reservations surround 'Los Paul', however, one of the punkiest songs on the album, sung through a megaphone entirely in German, the lyrics describing scenes of extreme violence while various news reports, including the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, play simultaneously on either side of the mix. An excellent ending to side one.

Side two begins on a much lighter note. 'Sabine Sabine Sabine' is a sort of reggae doo-wop love song, pushed into the background by a spindly guitar and the hilariously resigned voice of Remmler trying and quite obviously (even if you can't understand all the German) failing to chat up a girl on the phone. 'Sunday You Need Love Monday Be Alone' is another one that for some reason reminds me of early Can. Not that it sounds like them, but the metronomic drumbeat and the loose improvised feel of the vocals combine to create the same kind of vibe. It was one of two Trio songs to be covered by The Jesus Lizard. 'Nur Ein Traum' ('Just A Dream') is based round a proto-Blues Explosion riff in 7/8, complete with Jon Spencer-style exclamatory yelps over the intro. Mostly in English it switches to German for a spoken down-tempo interlude before a brief return to the main riff and one final shriek. 'Ja Ja Wo Gehts Lank Peter Pank Schönen Dank' is a studio reworking of 'Ja Ja Ja' and no less frantic than the live rendition. This time the verbal ammunition impressions are replaced by an air raid siren. The song starts with a quick fade in and doesn't really come to a proper conclusion, abruptly fading out again at a seemingly arbitrary point. After two versions of their own 'Ja Ja', it seems only natural that they cover Lee Dorsey's 'Ya Ya', a marginally more sensible rendition than the cheeky 1974 knock-off by their producer's old mate John Lennon. Virtually a dry-run for their own soon-to-be smash 'Da Da Da', it features the same beat, the same semi-spoken delivery complete with laconic 'ah-ha's, and the first appearance of the Casio keyboard that would feature so winningly on that career-defining hit. The song appears to come to a natural end, but then quickly fades in again before being butchered by deliberately bad editing and then getting cut off. 'Danger Is' allows Krawinkel to show a bit more dexterity on the guitar, his arpeggios highlighting some neat chord changes and a catchy chorus. More vocalised sirens lead to a hilarious outro with the band members screaming in panic. This is the last we hear of them in the studio, the final track being a 30 second extract from the end of one of their concerts, with the words 'Tri-o, Tri-i-i-o' sung to the tune of 'The Banana Boat Song', much to the audience's amusement.

The first pressing of the album came with a bonus 7" single containing the classic 'Halt Mich Fest Ich Werd Verrückt' ('Hold Me I'm Going Crazy'). The opening beat sounds like it's going to lead into Katrina & The Waves' 'Walking On Sunshine', but the song turns out to be pretty dark:

'Searchin hard for a lady
searchin hard for some dope
searchin hard for someone to soothe my soul

See the lights gettin' dimmer
see the walls turning green
see the tumble and fall that you never seen

Here I am alone
in my shaky room
ain't nobody gonna see that I'm gonna die soon'

B-side 'Lady-O-Lady' is less essential, although worth having for Remmler's delivery of this spoken section: 'Ladies and gentlemen you are about to witness a scene featuring a man and a woman in a living room. The television is not on. They're playing games people play. Yes. Ladies and gentlemen it's time to be bizarre.'

Unsurprisingly, Mercury Records were quick to cash in on the success of 'Da Da Da', and from 1982 onwards all pressings of their debut had that song added as the second track on side two, although in some territories it also got placed on their next LP, 'Bye Bye' ('Trio & Error' in the USA), released in 1983. This album lacks the purity of their debut, but has much of interest about it, not least the fact that it was partly recorded at Can's studio in Weilerswist, Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit even contributing (very subtle) effects and percussion respectively to the gentle instrumental 'W.W.W.' Producer Klaus Voorman also plays bass this time, effectively making him the fourth member of the trio, and the minimalist ethic is only apparent on a couple of tracks, including the enjoyably perfunctory 'Ich Lieb' Den Rock 'n' Roll' which sees the band pared down to just a duo, 'The Claw' taking lead vocals and starting off by gleefully exclaiming 'Mama und Papa ham mir ne Gitarre gekauft/jetzt fahr ich ab und ich hör niemals auf/ich lieb den Rock'n'Roll!' ('Mama and Papa have given me a guitar/now I'll go off and never listen/I love rock'n'roll!') But even more so than with Klaus Dinger's post Neu! work, which some listeners find just a tad too cheesy in its gleeful euphoria, to love much of Trio's material after 'Da Da Da' you have to adjust your expectations and accept that they now seem to be unironically incorporating elements of the German schlager tradition that their first album wholeheartedly rejected. As a result 'Bye Bye' scores higher on the ohrwürm front, songs such as 'Herz Ist Trumpf' ('Hearts Are Trump') having naggingly catchy melodies that get stuck in the brain and refuse to be ejected. The most extreme example of this is 'Turaluraluralu - Ich Mach BuBu Was Machst Du' which is nothing less than Jim Reeves sitting in Val Doonican's rocking chair, accompanying himself on an omnichord, backed by a choir and tubular bells. A bit of a shock on the first listen, it becomes surprisingly lovable after a few listens. There are a few other fun moments - opening song 'Drei Mann Im Doppelbett' ('Three Men In A Double Bed') is little more than the title sung over and over, interspersed with a catchy Funky Town melody on the Casio keyboard, and the album closes with a slightly souped-up version of the excellent follow-up single to 'Da Da Da', 'Anna - Letmeinletmeout', the other Trio song covered by The Jesus Lizard. But the band were putting out some weaker singles around this time too - an oddly irrelevant cover of Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti' (presumably, like 'Ya Ya', it satisfied their love of rock'n'roll and meaningless titles) and the dated 'Boom Boom' (the cover of which depicted the title written across the ample bosom of Germany's most popular prostitute). The self-sabotage of the debut is briefly glimpsed on 'Out In The Street' which the band apparently considered too perfect and messed up by randomly adding a glitching effect that sounds like a CD getting stuck (a few years before such a thing became a reality).

But my favourite thing about 'Bye Bye' is the sleeve concept. Not only does the title suggest that this is their (first) farewell record, but it seems that the intention was for it to be potentially misheard as 'Buy Buy', the cover taking the idea of 'The Who Sell Out' and playing it for real. A grid divides both sides into 8 blocks, with small print that reads: 'The surface of this cover is for ads. Interested parties who wish to be represented on the next edition, please contact tel 089/39 40 12.' On the first pressing two of the spaces were already taken by adverts for Uvex crash helmets. By the fifth pressing all the spaces had been filled with ads for various companies and products, including Greenpeace (to whom all royalties from the venture were donated), Wella hair spray, the TV listings magazine Hörzu, a mobile home company, The Rolling Stones' 'Undercover' LP, previous Trio releases, and (naturally) Casio keyboards.

Ideally this is where the Trio story should have concluded, but they re-united in 1985 for an unsuccessful movie entitled 'Drei Gegen Drei' ('Three Against Three'), a doppelganger farce that leaned heavily on broad slapstick. The accompanying LP, the somewhat overproduced 'What's The Password?' doesn't really count as a true Trio album, as it lacks the input of Behrens who was in prison at the time. He appears on the cover but was replaced by a drum machine during the sessions. It's tempting to see a premonition of this last stage of their career on the cover of the 'Anna' single from 1982, which depicts three men in tight cycling gear riding a trandem, like a cross between Kraftwerk and The Goodies. It was only a matter of time before the conceptual purity of their initial work became subsumed by a more exaggerated expression of their humourous image, but it also didn't help that the mid-80s was a period when even the best bands succumbed to trends in popular music which seemed cutting edge at the time but now sound terribly dated. Sadly, Trio were no exception. But, as their debut album still shows, there were some bright ideas going on in the early days of the Neue Deutsche Fröhlichkeit, of which Trio were the leading practitioners. Well, they would be, it being a term they made up to differentiate themselves from the rest of the German New Wave. Translating as 'New German Cheerfulness', it describes their music fairly inadequately, but as a reaction to pop-star self-importance it works just fine.

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