A desperate man in a world so cold…
When I was a teenager I had a strange obsession with Falco. Truth be told it was originally one of those ironic things that eventually lead to a genuine appreciation (like so much in my life), but I gotta say, I always liked his style. He had the fashion sense, the movie star looks, and the voice, but most importantly he always looked like he was having a better time than you were. He also had this kind of odd vocal style, cutting up his lines as though he was in the process of being remixed, and screaming a lot when the songs didn’t exactly call for it. He has a claim as one of the first white rappers on the planet, coming on the scene in 1981, almost the same time as Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash. For some reason I found all this hilarious, maybe because it was a different time then, when the 80’s were something to be laughed at and not revered the way it is today. Or maybe it was the German.
Either way, Falco was a born star. He was diagnosed with perfect pitch and accepted into the Vienna Music Conservatory, but left to pursue his dream of becoming an international superstar, in particular trying to break it big in the USA. Which he eventually did, when “Rock Me Amadeus” topped the Hot 100 in 1986. With nowhere to go but down, Emotional is the start of Falco’s decline, which led to a series of failed comebacks that lasted until his death in 1998. This was the first of Falco disc I ever heard, as it was the first one I ever found a used copy of (why I never found a copy of the much more famous Falco 3 is still a mystery), and I don’t think I could’ve started with a better one. Yeah, his hits are great, but what I really loved about Falco was the absurdity, and Emotional has that in spades. The album cover of course is a direct reference to Elvis’s famous ’68 comeback special, and come to think about it Falco and Elvis really did have a lot in common – both larger-than-life personalities, both had a poor upbringing, both died before they got a chance to get old (Falco: 40, Elvis: 44). Elvis had about 37 more No. 1 singles, but hey who’s counting. Needless to say Falco enjoyed all the perks of stardom, dating actresses and models, and developing an alcohol and drug addiction that led him to as many rehab stints as he had studio albums. In other words he lived the life, for better or worse, which may explain why his music always sounds so intense. He sings, he shouts, he screams, he raps, but he rarely tones it down. He’s nothing if he can’t be loud.
Take the title track and opening cut here, a rare foray into romantic R&B that regardless sees Falco yelling all over the song, bringing intensity where it really doesn’t belong. Though to be fair he does this all over this album, making him the musical equivalent of the “Good Day, Mr. Kubrick” guy. David Lee Roth he is not, but regardless I bet these isolated vocal tracks would be pretty damn entertaining, since you never quite know when he’s gonna suddenly crank it the hell up. Yes, the drama is all over this album – outside of one tune that sounds like a Falco 3 outtake (“The Star of Moon and Sun”) all of these songs have elaborate arrangements, full of backup singers and orchestra-imitating synths. All the extra stuffing pushes the average track length up to a little over five minutes, which is trouble for a pop album. It was all too much for the critics and the record-buying public – even though “The Sound of Musik” and “Coming Home (Jeanny Part 2)” both charted pretty well worldwide, the album was a textbook flop.
It’s easy to see why, since it’s missing the sort of understated and self-aware quality that his first three discs had. For once you don’t really know if he’s in on the joke, which makes stuff like the blustery, film-noir of “Crime Time” all that more fascinating. In fact there’s sort of a cinematic atmosphere to pretty much all of it, from the first-person tribute to photojournalist Robert Capa (“Kamikaze Cappa”) to the hip-hop stomp “Cowboyz and Indianz”, which features lines like “Hard times for the Soviets/Because Uncle Sam is playing Space Cadet”. All pretty entertaining, and if you keep listening, there are some great tunes there. “Coming Home (Jeanny Part 2)” and “Les Nouveax Riches” both have the hooks and the flair, but the big winner is “The Sound of Musik”, a grand pop song that sounds like it fits in a Broadway musical. And it does so despite cribbing a chunk of “Rapper’s Delight”, no less. Sure, it all ends in a mess, with the cram-it-all “Kiss of Kathleen Turner” which I dig even though it’s cobbled together like a 12-inch that won’t quit. Man has a dream, after all.
So what to make of Emotional? It’s a mess, but a damn entertaining one. Einzelhaft and Falco 3 may be better albums, but if you want the boom-bop-bop-chicka-chicka-waaaa! Falco, than this is the album for you!