Friedemann Uhr vs Zeit Exile on Mainstream Records
Acoustic-backed philosophical musings from an unlikely source.
Never judge a book by its cover so they say, unless the book in question is named “The Bumper Book Of Not Judging Books By Their Cover” and features a cover design imaginatively depicting some books being resolutely not judged by an Freudian therapist in a non-judgmental neutral space where the books are valued for what is inside them. Paper. And words.
Anyway, enough of riffing on this rather tired allegory; the point of my opening seven words was to make the snappy observation that anyone looking at Friedemann and seeing a large, shaven-headed heavily tattooed man assumed him to be a bruiser incapable of creativity and poetic expression would be miles wide of the mark.
He might be mostly known for his work with German hardcore stalwarts COR, but despite his image and his recording CV his first solo record, “Uhr vs Zeit” (“Clock Vs Time”) reveals a whole other musical identity. Largely composed of more downbeat songs principally played on acoustic guitar with a little accordion backing, the lyrics growled over them in German.
It was this latter aspect which made it difficult for me to properly appreciate the subtleties of these songs and will probably make it difficult for other non-German speakers. Now I am certainly not an advocate of the idea that English should be the universal language of music, but the more guttural sounds of the German language do feel a little distracting when set to an acoustic-dominated backing. Far more than they do in hardcore or indeed most music with a strong back-beat or more than a couple of instruments behind them.
The playing, while of a good standard, is not really spectacular enough to hold the attention when the vocal style is in opposition to it and the language isn’t shared with the listener.
All of which is a shame, as I was fortunate enough to get an English translation of the lyrics and believe me when I say the Friedemann is a poet – a weaver of beautiful imagery and concise observations. So perhaps the problem is in the ear of the beholder, but it is certainly the case that non-German speakers won’t be able to pick up on what is perhaps his greatest strength as a composer.
A damn good reason why – despite my own linguistic limitations – the cultural imperialism of the English language contributes to the devaluation of all music.
Written by Keith Thomas