Udo Lindenberg

Stark Wie Zwei

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Having been a singular figure and leading light of the German rock scene for 30 years, Udo Lindenberg found himself sidelined after the turn of the millennium for the first time in his career. One of the most prolific musicians seemed to have run out of steam for the first time, underlined by a surprisingly uninspired album in 2000, Der Exzessor, which veered dangerously close to self-parody. Fair enough, no one could be more deserving of a prolonged break than the man who did more than most to inspire others in Germany to actually start using their native language in rock music, following his example of how to break Germany free from the bonds of facile schlagermusik or deadly earnest folk songs that it was predominantly shackled to. His lyrical and musical inventiveness during the '70s provided a solid foundation for him to soldier on for a further 20 years, still dotted with success along the way. This comeback album of 2008, Stark Wie Zwei (As Strong as Two) would have to be judged on that background, and as such is a resounding success. The fact that it was a full-blown sales success is one thing. The specific way in which this new set of songs turned out to be so satisfying is actually the more fascinating part. At 62, expectations could well have been that old Udo might not be as convincing as he once was. It's true that the intricacies of the musical arrangements he had in the '70s aren't there anymore (but that's been the case ever since the early '80s), the production is pretty streamlined, and most worryingly, nine of the 14 songs of this hourlong set actually take a sort of funereal pace. The surprise is that none of that matters much. Udo Lindenberg's trademark sly wit is back in place, the narratives of the songs are compelling as ever, the production adds a certain sparkle to counter any dour tendencies that such a number of slow-paced songs might have, and even the famous guest singers on three of the tracks could have been done without (although they certainly added to the commercial clout, connecting Udo to a younger audience that wasn't familiar with him yet). Much of the songs' subject matter isn't new either. Keeping your chin up, doing your own thing, loving and losing, the pros and cons of alcohol -- it really is the way he tells 'em that wins you over. The humor (and wisdom) is in the details. The only disappointment this album holds is a lack of originality in the actual music. That really would be territory to embark on to make future Udo Lindenberg albums even more satisfying (in the way his best albums of the '70s were), but as a reentry point, this album turned out just fine.

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