Alphaville's debut album Forever Young is arguably their best known, thanks to a pair of big worldwide hits in "Big in Japan" and "Forever Young" (which belatedly scraped the Billboard Hot 100 some four years after its initial release). But the German synth-poppers had so much more to give to fans ready for deep, unusual thoughts on their subsequent releases.
1986's Afternoons in Utopia, due for reissue May 7 with a bonus disc of rare B-sides, remixes and bonus material, may be one of their most strangely ambitious works. Reflecting the existentialism and yearning, Cold War-era anxieties of their debut, Afternoons found the band winding metaphysical concepts into their work, pushing for a real dream of utopia by inventing it whole cloth.
Built as a literal song cycle - opening track "IAO" kicks off where second side closer "Lady Bright" ends - Afternoons weaves amorous infatuation and idealism throughout its intricately crafted lyrical visions. Lead single "Dance with Me," a European Top 40 hit, mixes grandiose guitars and keyboards with striking (if not innately knowable) characters. ("Let the Magnet-Mages wave the signals," vocalist Marian Gold sings in the first verse.) References to the smiles of lovers and friends throughout the album are actually spelled out in the liner notes as an acronym: "SMI²LE," the transhumanist concept of "Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, and Life Extension" made popular by Timothy Leary. As for other favorites like "Universal Daddy" or "Jerusalem" - well, we may not be able to pinpoint their exact meaning, but the combination of killer hooks and vocals is easy to fall in love with.
Gold was well aware of how unusual the lyrics of Afternoons in Utopia could seem. "Sometimes people used to say, 'Have they gone crazy now? Talking with dolphins and all that!!'" he wrote in an essay accompanying the band's first greatest hits package. "But I think that once we've learned the language of the dolphins - this mutual approach - that could be the moment of significant change in our messed up civilization."
And you know what? It's hard to argue with that.
Afternoons in Utopia is now available on CD and vinyl from Rhino Records. Totally 80s readers can get 20% off at Rhino.com with the promo code "ALPHA20."