Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Frank Turba - Frank Turba

Frank Turba
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from MRL 411


Frank Turba was an active participant in the heady German music scene during the 70s, mostly as a songwriter of pop songs. He has quite a few credits in the first half of the decade and a few of the earlier ones were collaborative efforts that included Giorgio Moroder prior to his breakthrough in global popularity with his pioneering take on electro-disco.

Turba also had a short-lived project at the start of the 80s called F.O.X.
on German disco label Teldec but around the same time he made a major impact singing the German version of the theme song to cartoon kingpins Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn. There are actually numerous YouTube videos dedicated to covering his take on the track but skip over the video below to spare yourself the pain of listening to 14-year old girls using crappy computer mics to squeek them out over slideshow pastiches of pink and purple unicorn paintings. The masochists among you need only press play to satiate your need for sonic self-flagellation.

WARNING: Not for the faint of heart

Since then he's better known for translating and dubbing English movies, video games and TV series into his native language (including one of my favourite shows The Wire). In fact, he's literally created a legacy in the niche since his children, David and Magdalena, are busy voice actors in their own right and highly sought-after in the German dubbing scene. By all appearances, Turba still keeps a finger in the musical-performer pie though and plays keys with what appears to be a popular cabaret cover band called Past Perfect.

In some places, this album is listed as "Krautrock" but that's a serious misnomer. Besides being rock performed by Germans, there is little connection to what most folks would actually consider part of the genre. In fact, the closest it comes to that classification is via the players Turba assembled for his sole album under his own name.

Foremost are duo Jackie & Frank Diez, who both lent their voices to one of Krautrock's masterpieces, the sophomore album by one of my favourite bands in the genre, Agitation Free's 2nd. Diez also played guitar with Emergency on both Entrance and No Compromise, and backed Frumpy's Ingrid Rumpf on a couple of her Atlantis records as well as stints with Armageddon, Karthago and Ihre Kinder. Frank's a genuine German guitar god and according to his website he played a large role in bringing the Blues and its heavy rock derivative to the country, kind of like a teutonic Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton.

For further fine fretwork from Frank

Another significant name associated with this project is Gary Unwin. Originally from the UK,
he was in the freakbeat combo The HiFis with legendary library music bigwig Brian Bennett and moved to Germany at the end of the 60s to cash in on his "British Invasion" rep. No matter where he would have emigrated, in those days that was good for quite a bit of mileage in the session business and he spent a few years as a hired hand, often uncredited. During this time he played on some Krautrock classics including Ralf Nowy's Lucifer's Dream with Diez and Niagara's S.U.B., the former being put out the same year as Turba's album.

Soon after this release, another of Unwin's projects, Silver Convention, blew up worldwide with their hit "Fly, Robin, Fly" and for a decade after he enjoyed a solid career in disco and funk as a writer and producer but he's perhaps better known as bassist on Munich Machine hits for the likes of Claudja Barry, Boney M, Dee D Jackson, Sister Sledge and Donna Summer.
Info on Martin Harrison is scarce but he appears to have worked closely with Unwin as a rhythm section and he appears on many of the same albums made in Europe. Both seem to have pretty much dropped out of the spotlight by the mid-80s.

Gary Unwin: From Herpetology to Handcuffs

As for the music itself, it's a hodge-podge of mostly pop and rock styles with little-to-no thematic congruity. Rambling from one end of the spectrum to another and back again, Turba takes a stab at a multiplicity of musical milieus, running through lighthearted Sgt. Pepper-ish pych ("Funny Song"), mediocre reggae ("Telephone Love"), raunchy riff rock ("Blue Jeans"), pale Elton John piano man imitations ("Alice Brown"), Brill-building blue-eyed soul ("Manhattan") and beer hall sing-song ("Bini") with varying degrees of success. The MPD nature of the album culminates on the schizophrenic "Tempest Storm" which shifts gears from reverb-laden 50s R&B to crunchin' southern-fried boogie à la Johnny Winters and then back again without any warning whatsoever.

The closest the album comes to an actual kosmische sound is Diez's
arpeggiated fretwork on opener "Stony Silence" and his criminally short acid-burned solo midway through "Duett." In fact, with a memorable melody, excellent musicianship and some soaring moments, that track pretty much encapsulates the potential the album has. It also highlights how Turba's obvious populist leanings detracted from what could have been a hell of an album. The deft touch of Deitz and the tight rhythm section are definite highlights throughout and enough to recommend this effort to pop and rock fans who might find a song or two very much to their liking.

Doing this record in English was a strategic misstep and the language factor goes a long way to giving the listener an impression of amateurism, albeit unfairly so. Had it been recorded in his native German, he may have had more success with its particular sensibilities but there's just too much disparity for consumption by a
post-Altamont North America's increasingly tribalized rock audience compounded by a total lack of the hipsterism required to make it in London.

Lack of Hipsterism Exhibit A: Turba today on keys w/ Past Perfect

Not sure how Shad got his hands on this one but being published by Brent it's clearly not licensed material. Either recorded specifically for Shad in Germany or done on spec and then shopped around to US labels afterwards, this attempt at breaking into the Anglo market falls short of the mark in many ways. However, if you can get past some of the lamer lyrics and are comfortable walking the fine line between eccentric eclecticism and chemical imbalance then you may enjoy this collection better than most so if you see it in the bins for a fin or less, you might want to grab it.

Frank Turba - Keyboards, Vocals, Arrangements
Frank Diez - Guitars
Gary Unwin - Bass
Martin Harrison - Drums
Jackie Diez - Vocals

1 Stony Silence
2 Bini
3 Telephone Love
4 Funny Song
5 Duett
6 Blue Jeans
7 Alice Brown
8 Manhattan
9 Tempest Storm
10 End Song

Turba charge your music collection with Soundological HERE or HERE.


Arkadin said...

"The masochists among you need only press play to satiate your need for sonic self-flagellation." lol

What a joy it was to read your review! It really made up for listening to this miserable album - the worse the music the better your write-ups! ;)
I saw some Ebay-sellers describing it as Krautrock - sales pitch in my opinion, there's hardly any Krautrock on this one, only Krauts failing to rock, but Krautrock has become some kind of trademark as "spiritual jazz" - just mention it in your auction (perhaps ad a "Strata-East-like") and you gonna sell it at a much higher prize. I guess it works likewise with Krautrock. Well, all I heard was a third-class Elton-John-imitator.

In his defense I'd like to mention that he does a good job synchronizing "The Wire" (best TV-Series ever along with "The Sopranos" imo), which is not an easy job as there is plenty of ghetto slang I was not able to understand in the original.

You may write the better reviews (I'm not even a competitor), but currently I do have the better music - the next QTB is online!


cheeba said...

Glad you got a laugh of two, Arkadin!

If you follow the link for The Wire they actually discuss overcoming the slang issue you mention. Sounds like they did a pretty good job.

Speaking of "sounds" and "good" can't argue that QTB is a much stronger musical offering than many these last MRLs.

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