It is, upon occasion, the privilege of the humble music reviewer to introduce his or her audience to an artist they have almost certainly never heard of, because said artist hails from some god forsaken place like Germany, that dastardly nation responsible for spawning two world wars (and even worse!) my second ex-wife, who is a kind of one-person world war and against whom I hold a grudge because she won’t let me see our Chihuahua Rudi, who loathes everyone and everything and holds the world’s record for nonstop barking at 12 hours, 43 minutes, and 17 seconds.
Oh, I know that plenty of German bands have successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean to our shores. Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Trio, Scorpions, Rammstein, Tangerine Dream—the list goes on and on. (See Boney M., who many credit as one of Hitler’s much-vaunted vengeance weapons.) But singer/songwriter Rio Reiser is not amongst their ranks, and that’s too bad. Part of Reiser’s problem was that he was a pop rocker and sometimes folk musician, and such individuals have never broken through to an American audience. What’s more, he sang in German and his approach was frequently sentimental. Finally, his music varied widely in style from folk to pop to new wave to protopunk, making him a tough artist to put a label on.
This is exemplified on 1986’s Rio I., the first album Reiser recorded after leaving the similarly obscure but great Ton Steine Scherben, which aligned itself with West Germany’s squatter scene, as well as its student and labor movements. Ton Steine Scherben’s radical activities translated into mass popularity but no money, and dire financial straits were one of the reasons Reiser left the band, leading to accusations that he was a money-grubbing sellout. It’s true that Reiser’s highly successful debut album put him in the black, financially speaking, but it also happens to be, for many of the German youth who grew up listening to him, a sacred document. My ex- may have had a Kurt Cobain poster on her bedroom wall, but it was to Reiser she turned most often, for such songs as “Junimond” and the great “König Von Deutschland” (“King of Germany”).