Listen to this track by Los Angeles new wave Europhiles and future Top Gun soundtrack fixtures Berlin. It’s “The Metro”, a single that was featured on their 1983 album Pleasure Victim. A hair’s breadth just before Madonna, and in the years just after the type of synth-based music that was pioneered by Kraftwerk in the late 1970s, Berlin hit the middle ground with a sort of Americanized version of European new wave, which may explain their band name.
This song was one of their bigger hits, just after their initial international hit subtly titled “Sex (I’m A …)” that had scored a chart placing on the Billboard top 100, but hadn’t cracked the top twenty. This one was always my favourite, their first on a major label (Geffen), and with a sound that captured the essence of the classic synthpop era that would soon disappear in the years that followed.
Yet, even after this song enjoyed its initial success, it would continue to be a signature for a band well beyond the era out of which it came. And it would offer a tale that captures a classic post-punk approach, too – ambiguity.
Another plus on this song is frontwoman Terri Nunn and her detached vocal style that somehow still manages to tell a very human story; a train ride, a day out, a love affair long over. Even if this song is decidely of its time, it also manages to resonate in the 21st century, considering how many of these same analogue synth textures have made a return. But, at the time it hit on a futurist vibe, with lyrics full of modern transit systems and European locales that made it exotic to North American listeners, while also being connected to the roots of where the band’s sound was coming from.
One dimension about this song is how ambiguous the memory at the center of it is. Is this a happy memory, or a sad one? At first, it seems wistful. But, then the line “I remember hating you for loving me” seems to smash that assumption to pieces. It also suggests a whole narrative behind that memory that makes you wonder what the whole story is. Maybe this is why it’s my favourite of the band’s hit songs. It’s emotionally complex, but still an accessible pop song, since covered by System of A Down, and John Frusciante among others.
Berlin would have a number of hits after this one, some of them featured on soundtracks. “No More Words” came out the next year, featured on the soundtrack of the movie Vision Quest. And of course, their biggest hit would be “Take My Breath Away”, now forever associated with the 1986 film Top Gun. That would be their last hit before their initial break-up in 1987.
Since that time, Berlin have returned complete with Terri Nunn up front. And in 2013, they put out a new record, Animal.
Find out more about them at the Berlin official website, Berlinpage.com.