Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Klaus Nomi - Klaus Nomi

Klaus Nomi is the debut album by German countertenor Klaus Nomi.

Klaus Sperber (January 24, 1944 – August 6, 1983), better known as Klaus Nomi, was a German countertenor noted for his wide vocal range and an unusual, otherworldly stage persona.

Nomi was known for his bizarrely visionary theatrical live performances, heavy make-up, unusual costumes, and a highly stylized signature hairdo which flaunted a receding hairline. His songs were equally unusual, ranging from synthesizer-laden interpretations of classical music opera to covers of 1960s pop standards like Chubby Checker's "The Twist" and Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes". He is remembered in the US as one of David Bowie's backup singers for a 1979 performance on Saturday Night Live.

Nomi died in 1983 at the age of 39 as a result of complications from AIDS.

It only takes a quick look at the cover to get a reasonably decent idea that this isn't your typical pop album: Decked out in a grossly oversized suit and heavy theatrical makeup, Klaus Nomi is not your typical pop singer, either. Both the cover and the music within lean heavily to the dramatic -- Nomi's delivery is all in a very operatic falsetto, though most of the music itself is more of the early-'80s European dance school (indeed, one of his collaborators here was Man Parrish, probably best-known for his later work with Man 2 Man). Only one of the tracks here was self-penned; rather, Nomi gets down to work here as an interpreter, turning in suitably skewed versions of "Lightning Strikes" and Chubby Checker's "The Twist." The real highlights here are his take on Kristian Hoffman's song "Total Eclipse," and a rather straight (ahem) reading of the aria from Saint-Saens' classical work Samson and Delilah. It's pretty hard to imagine your typical classical music buff embracing this song, let alone the entire album, but fans of off-kilter pop music will certainly find a lot to love about this album.
Sean Carruthers

I discovered Klaus Nomi fairly recently. It was only a month or so ago that, after hearing a couple of tracks on last.fm, I discovered to try searching him on YouTube to see what came up. I found the video for "Lightning Strikes", and the rest, as they say, is history.

Almost all of the songs on the album, with the exception of the ghostly "Wasting My Time" seem to be covers. But, after comparing the original version of "Lightning Strikes" to Nomi's cover, it becomes clear that he makes the songs his own. Another example his his version of "The Cold Song", which is chilling and beautiful at the same time.

Say what you like about Klaus Nomi - there's no one else quite like him. After listening to this album on repeat I still can't think of anyone else to compare him to. And I never thought that an album that could be labelled "electro-synthpop-opera" would appeal to me.


I saw the 2004 documentary about Klaus Nomi, and I was a bit disappointed they didn't spend more time discussing and analyzing his music. Granted, I'm probably one of the few viewers who had that concern, but I guess that's just who I am! Anyway, Nomi's image and personality were so interesting that there was no time left to look at the songs. However, hearing snippets from his music on the documentary, I immediately became interested in it and quickly got a hold of his two albums.

This guy is an iconic figure of the New York underground, and that's more reasons than one. Right off the bat, you've probably already noticed how he used to dress. You at least *wondered* about him, right! Also, he died just as his popularity was taking off, which immediately thrust him into legendary status (even though he never attained the popularity of a Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain). Another unusual aspect of Klaus Nomi was the way he sang. He had childhood ambitions of being an opera star, and he spent most of his adult life developing a beautiful countertenor voice. However, he wasn't getting too far in the legitimate opera... so he decided to become a new wave star who happens to sing like an opera star! You might already be thinking that there was another German underground figure who combined punk with opera, Nina Hagen. (I have no idea who came first). But the two sound starkly different. Hagen is snarly and vicious. Nomi is quirky, gentle and otherworldly.

To finally answer the most important question of them all: I think this album is fantastic! I was familiar with all these songs from watching the documentary, but delving deeply into the music itself provided a number of rich and rewarding experiences that I would never have picked up from the doc. “Lightnin' Strikes” is a brilliant cover of Lou Christie's hit from 1966... and it greatly improves the original. The instrumentation is very goofy (making it a *fun* experience beyond everything else), but Nomi's operatic voice lends it a vastly interesting tone. When he hits the chorus, it sounds like he's singing about the apocalypse, which is something that caught me off guard the first time I heard it. He does the same sort of thing with the chorus in “Total Eclipse.” Both of these songs are not only incredibly fun, but they're catchy as hell.

His version of Chubby Checker's “The Twist” is about as weird as it gets. Instead of speeding up the tempo (like most new wave bands would), they slow it down and gives me visions of a weird alien dance party. Nomi's countertenor voice makes that already creepy idea even creepier. You're going to have to hear it to believe it. “Nomi Song” was written seemingly as his signature song... it starts out like an operatic aria and then a catchy, jerky new wave song comes in. That one's also a lot of fun! A substantial number of listeners are insistent that Nomi's straight operatic exercises are the undisputed highlights of his albums. While I beg to differ, I can see where they're coming from. “The Cold Song” is a cover of 17th Century composer Henry Purcell, and it's one of the most mesmerizing moments of the whole album. It's gorgeous, actually.
Don Ignacio


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