On May 1, "Das rote Album" by the band Tocotronic will be released. Their eleventh LP has become an encyclopedia of love without being kitschy.
You don’t know the guys that romantic at all. Picture: Michael Petersohn
The red phase has begun in the realm of Tocotronic. It begins with a ringing bass guitar and some reverb, a driving drum beat, snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, very reduced. Then snappy, almost staccato vocals, leading into soft choruses, "Ba-ba-ba …" With a "prologue" Tocotronic herald their new album, whose cover – 100 years after Malevich – shows a simple square in red color.
That the Tocotronic color theory, 13 years after the "White Album", has now arrived at red, is not insignificant. Already in the video for "Prologue" the band varies the color motif. In it, you follow a woman who wanders around, withdraws, later roams lonely in the strange city. "You’re still trembling and listening inside yourself/ What could the event be?" sings Dirk von Lowtzow to it. A blood-red sky spreads out in front of the protagonist. To this, the sung verse lights up in red: "Love will be the event."
Love is the central theme on the untitled eleventh album by the formative German indie and discourse rock band of recent years "It’s almost a kind of concept album on the theme of love," says singer and guitarist von Lowtzow during the interview that he and bassist Jan Muller give to the taz. Commenting on the album design by artist Jan Timme, bassist Muller says: "Once love emerged as the theme, the red artwork suggested itself. And red is of course also the color of political struggle. Last but not least, it’s about reduction: painting, shortening, getting to the point. That should also be reflected in the design."
The red phase as a careful caesura of the Berlin-based band. The once typical Tocotronic rock guitars sound even more withdrawn than before. After the lo-fi early phase and the no longer quite so pulpy, more grounded sound of adulthood of the noughties, it is now: Let there be Pop.
They sound more hopeful, more conciliatory.
So sound synthesizers, concise bass runs, implied guitar solos, a high, delicate voice. Besides these songs with clear eighties references, there are also some singer-songwriter/chanson pieces on the "Red Album". Tocotronic, who are completed by Arne Zank on drums and Rick McPhail on second guitar, once again worked with producer Moses Schneider. He had already recorded and mixed the Berlin trilogy – the albums "Pure Vernunft darf niemals siegen," "Kapitulation" and "Schall und Wahn" – as well as the previous album "Wie wir leben wollen" from 2013.
Tocotronic: "Das rote Album" (Vertigo Berlin/Universal). Release date May 1.
Tocotronic have, and this is perhaps most surprising, recorded a very positive album, which is also due to the theme of love. If on past albums the opening tracks were called "Mein Ruin" or "Eure Liebe totet mich", now it sounds more hopeful, more conciliatory. "The album is certainly gentler than others of ours," says Muller, "we’ve perhaps stood more for detachment and denial as a band." Von Lowtzow adds that they wanted to take the subject seriously, as if they were writing a "Lexicon of Love." What had to be avoided was: kitsch.
Now and then the kitschy abyss is close – all the more amazing how elegantly Tocotronic circle it. The song "Haft" – with the hook line "Ich hafte an Dir" – would be one such example.
At first sounding very trivial, on repeated hearing it grows into an interpretive, clever song, which is also currently being interpreted at the Berlin Volksbuhne in a Pollesch/Von-Lowtzow production: "Neither violence/ Nor passion/ What unites us is Haft/ A lesser force/ What unites us is Haft."
"What the hell is that now?"
"Sugar," a song that questions constructions of masculinity, also reveals itself only after repeated listenings. In its lightheartedness, it recalls They Might Be Giants or the Smiths. "I basically like it when someone startles while listening and wonders, ‘What the hell is that now?’ Those are caesuras in listening and perception," von Lowtzow says of it.
The lyrical expertise is also evident on the second, political level. The song "Die Erwachsenen", introduced by Eighties synths, contains the view of a rebellious teenager on the adult world. Here, the gently delivered chorus line, "We’re babies/ They don’t raise us," is initially disturbing. "The song is thought around the corner three times and should still be in-your-face," von Lowtzow says. Indeed, it becomes exciting where it turns on its own missed opportunities, its untried revolts, and where youthful irrationality involuntarily turns to reason: "You can’t trust the grown-ups/ Their hair is thinning/ So are their pants/ We’re gonna build a lot of walls/ ‘Cause they’re horrible."
So there are political readings of the songs throughout as well; the follow-up track, "Rebel Boy," begins with the lines, "I’m not needed/ The future doesn’t exist/ But I’ve already been told/ About you." The No Future of punk can be found here, slightly modified: "I could imagine that the song portrays a world view that many young people have right now, for example in Berlin," says von Lowtzow. "The city is a gathering place for young people from countries with high unemployment, Spain or Greece. But equally, it could be a disillusioned old person speaking."
What is said is not what is meant
Clearly politically connoted is "Solidarity," a song of almost Brechtian character that postulates empathy for outsiders and the marginalized. "The reason for the song were the reports about the pogrom-like atmosphere in Hellersdorf in the summer of 2013," says von Lowtzow, "in the song I transfer that to a personal level."
For Muller, the piece therefore doesn’t fall outside the concept: "For me, it expands the concept of love," he says, "I don’t perceive it as an explicitly political song at all, you can interpret it in very different ways." And von Lowtzow adds, "Solidarity is influenced by the songs Nico recorded with Jackson Browne in the late sixties."
Hamburg School veteran Kristof Schreuf formulates the thesis that Tocotronic moves away from discourse rock on the red album. If you put the emphasis on "rock", that may be true. And on the red album there is certainly also a development towards sayability, towards clarity. On the other hand, one should never be too sure that what is said is what is meant when it comes to von Lowtzow’s lyrics.
A hidden date with Dirk
Musically, the red album has some real hits, real bangers. But also two, three songs that you would not register so. If it weren’t for the lyrics. They are as grandiose as perhaps never before with this band. They are hymns to reliability, to complicity in love, to friendships. It’s about gently reinventing oneself without reinventing pop.
One is released from the red album with a "Hidden Track". The I who speaks in it has a "date with Dirk/ on the first day of spring". Completely plausibly, one finds oneself shortly thereafter deep in German Romanticism, on the "moist, musty, vom Tau liebkosten Wiesengrund" (a small salute to Adorno, whose "Minima Moralia" the band had discussed during the production process).
The legs are now bitten by mosquitoes. Dirk, meanwhile, is growing plasma out of his hand. And the event is the new Tocotronic album.