If anyone knows me, they’d know this album forms a perfect storm of what I dig about music. I love it when someone actually aims to “sell out” by doing it in such a way that everyone is left dumbfounded by the product of that intended vision. There is one “right” way to pull that of course, and that’s where some hidden gems are always found. What is that right way, you ask? The answer can be found in Joachim Witt’s Moonlight Nights, a perfect je ne sais quo of German electro-pop that goes beyond anything you’d expect to hear then. Surprisingly tropical. Surprisingly experimental and “German”, it’s one of my all-time favorite summer albums for reasons I’ll never quite be able to place.
I know I throw words around like “masterpiece” a lot, but for me it all goes back to how we judge any other art form. True masterpieces embody everything a style or idea stands for. Balearic music, that slippery combination of “tropical” motifs mixed with a grab-bag of styles (funk, disco, latin, electro, jazz, etc.) can be anything but it must stand for something in the end. This is what I think it stands for: wistful, languid, slightly danceable grooves that do far more ruminating than meandering. The perfect sway of the best Balearic music says as much in the sway as it does in its overall musical spirit. Between the sunset and the night sky, one must ask oneself: What best can embody that “golden hour” musically? For me, inevitably, the answer goes to music that touches on intimate romance that only such sights can provide.
Of all the places to expect to get that oomph, sublime aura of temporal “laid-back” spirit, the last place one would look to find it would be in Hamburg, Germany. Expectations were probably the same for Joachim three or five years earlier, but here, in Moonlight Nights, we find Joachim singing in English, at a higher vocal pitch than he was ever known for, to music that sounds alien to the then recent German experience – at least to whatever had been his, derived from krautrock and post-punk. His music was supposed to be at the vanguard of the Neue Deutsche Welle, he was supposed to be the star of such neo-Motorik hits like “Goldener Reiter” and “Märchenblau” aiming for the big leagues across Europe (and elsewhere) with the same style – but now in English – yet he gave everyone this. Not exactly what his audience expected to here. Deeply personal and romantic, Latin-tinged electro-pop music with shades of Brian Eno, Duran Duran, Lou Reed, meeting dabs of Level 42, ABC, Heaven 17, and Pet Shop Boys…yet it sounds precious little like it could slot with any of them. Prefab Sprout and other Sophisti-Pop groups had the “pedigree” to aim for this intricacy, even though they couched their romantic tinge in heavy nostalgia (and far less electronic processing), but not Joachim who had a certain abrasive-sounding pigeonhole. Audiences expected something like Trio from Joachim, not something like the equally misunderstood Falco who reached towards hip-hop for his own inspiration for a ritzy “sell out”.
Was this all a suit he was wearing, trying to appease some unknown audience, doing so for some unknown/untold fame/fortune? All signs point to a negative affirmation. Joachim was knee deep into this unique phase enlisting Peter Sawatzki-Bär from Germany’s own intriguing “New Order”-like band Boytronic to help on arranging and production duties. Credits on the back cover list (in order of) inspiration from mother and family. An obvious labor of love, Moonlight Nights was couched in surprising melancholia. For me, I’d have to go back to Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” for something couching technology in delightfully askew, sultry terms to find its closest sonic analog or the UK’s Double for a similar lust for electro-tropics.
Moonlight Nights largely dispenses with acoustic “groove” or “swing” as we know it. Those ideas a left to mechanical things found on whatever synthesizer or drum machines Peter Sawatzki-Bär and Joachim program in the album, letting those get directly to some special Venn diagram midpoint of Teutonic electro-pop, Italian disco, English sophisti-pop, and American electro-funk. It’s not a sound I can easily describe. The very human emotions are conveyed by Joachim’s own vocals, matching swing with “mood swing.” It’s an experience, one must hear to suss out what this all is. However, in the end, fuck all that noise. If you can match a tape recording of Klaus Kinski reading Rimbaud to rhythms that evoke the best of Cafe del Mar…and actually do it in a way that projects certain things like bliss and intimacy…well, what the hell do you need to explain yourself for? You’ve turned dirt water into musical wine and whose me to lose faith in such miraculous wine in the summertime? Again, it goes without saying, there’s a reason this is one of my all-time favorite albums and a Balearic masterpiece, its done it by being something I’ve ceased trying to understand and simply just enjoy.