I WANT TO BE PART OF A YOUTH MOVEMENT
What makes a classic?
Is it transcendent melodies? Zeitgeist-capturing attitudes? The newness of sound? Quite frankly, I’m not sure. All I know is that within the German music press Digital ist besser has long entered the 90s canon as “our Nevermind.” Yet one gets the distinct sense that it’s more a case of Slanted & Enchanted than Pet Sounds, “stone-cold classic” and “baffling, tuneless dirge” being equally valid and understandable reactions.
Incidentally, the album is very much a kindred spirit of Slanted & Enchanted in its origin story. Digital ist besser was recorded in four days and mixed in three, and it must’ve taken equally little time for the record to forever etch itself into the hearts and souls of the Bildungsburgertum’s offspring in early 1995. What did it take? The playing’s sloppy, the songs short and fast, the guitars loud and distorted, the melodies catchy, and the lyrics elevate perpetual boredom to an artform by polemicising and inflating reflections on everyday life, their seeming raison d’etre a dissociation from the confines of German middle-class conservativeness.
That dilettantish immediacy—the off-key melodies and crooked chords—will likely make or break the album for you in the very first moments of album opener “Freiburg”: In prime Thomas Bernhard-inspired form as Angry Young Man, Dirk von Lowtzow utters the now classic lines “I don’t know why I hate you so much…” and alternatingly directs his ire at people who ride bicycles, play backgammon, or at the city’s nightclubs. It’s a knowingly absurd set of targets, a deliberate crack in the ironic aggrandizement of a futile rebellion.
While the level of ironic detachment varies, the self conflicting with a hostile them remains a central theme throughout the record:
- The title track stating
In a society / in which one wears colorful watches / In a society like this / I’m just standing in the way
- “Meine Freundin und ihr Freund“‘s (My Girlfriend and her Boyfriend——incidentally, the German words for “boyfriend” and “friend” are identical, the possesive adjective often making all the difference) tales of a love triangle:
Life’s often like a film by Rohmer / And to somehow make sense of that all / You turn into something vile / Namely, a cinephile
- and most prominently the vengeful denunciation of German middle-class Gemutlichkeit on “Samstag ist Selbstmord” (Saturday is Suicide)
Who invented the weekend? / All of mankind’s made to suffer from it
- that accuses anything that’s supposedly wrecking us: Gardening chores, too much spare time, Kaffe und Kuchen, relatives paying a visit, sport practice and literally “everything that you can do”
The rest of the record meanders between goofy acoustic ditties, punky thrashers (“Wie wir beide auf dem Teppichboden sitzen”, ”Drei Schritte vom Abgrund entfernt”, “Ich glaube ich habe meine Unschuld verloren”)
Oh everything is new everything is different / I don’t like my clothes anymore / I know this strange taste in my mouth / but I have no idea where I remember it from / Oh I think I have lost / I think I have lost my innocence
and grunge-pop anthems (the aforementioned “Druben auf dem Hugel” and “Wir sind hier nicht in Seattle, Dirk”, “Die Idee ist gut, doch die Welt noch nicht bereit”, “Uber Sex kann man nur auf Englisch singen”, and—a personal favourite—the glorious ode to college depression that is “Letztes Jahr im Sommer”).
Every day starts with rain / and I’m beginning to wonder if something’s not quite right / I know that nothing changes from one day to the other / but there’s definitely been times with fewer sorrows / for example last year in summer
With that gargantuan load of adolescent brashness a binary set of respones is very much understandable: You either want to kiss them for finding the key to the diary of your heart, or kick them to grow up and get some perspective! A few dissenting critics suggested that von Lowtzow’s Befindlichkeits-prose is a teenage litmus test in the vein of Herman Hesse: As you get wiser and more experienced in life, there comes a point when you just grow out of the infity of adolescent love & pain & anger & ridiculousness.
To which I can only say: I still very much enjoy Hesse, and damn do I still love this record…
Courtesy of One Week // One Band.
For more from Hendrik Jasnoch, check out an interview with him on today’s episode of Biology of the Blog.