Sunday, February 10, 2019

SPAZ reviews the two CD deluxe edition of FREIHEIT'S Fantasy!

(Expanded 2CD Edition/Cherry Red Records)

Thirty-one years ago, much of America ignored FANTASY by German band Freiheit when it was first released. At a time when New Wave was dying out and Big Hair Metal was on the rise, the album cover’s photo of the group with finely coifed hair didn’t connect with the Synth or Hard Rock kids so it was passed over in the record bins. With little radio airplay, the album looked to be a failure in the U.S. At least for the moment…

Freiheit began life as a guitar-led Pop/New Wave quartet by the name of Munchener Freiheit that sang in their native language. Their 1982 debut album UMSTEIGER was an edgy, melodic New Wave-inspired album that didn’t garner any hits but did get them some attention in their homeland. The following year’s LICHT album added poppier melodies and keyboards and was far more successful.  With each subsequent album, the band honed their Pop songwriting skills, and the slick production got even glossier as time went on. After the release of the TRAUMZIEL album in 1986, the band went into the studio, picked a few tracks from that album and earlier singles and re-recorded the vocals in English for the European market. The resulting album ROMANCING IN THE DARK – released under the abbreviated Freiheit name (which they only used for English language releases) - gave the band a boost outside of their homeland and laid the groundwork for FANTASY.

FANTASIE (1988) was Munchener Freiheit’s most fully-realized Pop assault on the charts. Slicker than Fonzie’s pompadour, the album solidified their popularity in Germany and they became bonafide popstars. Sounding not unlike Paul McCartney fronting Electric Light Orchestra performing Europop, the album was a fine collection of great hooks and harmonies enhanced by bombastic ‘80s production. The songs on the album were hard to ignore - it was as if heaven opened up and ear candy fell from the sky.  At the same time, the band recorded the vocals in English and released FANTASY (once again, as Freiheit). The album’s opening track, the gorgeous “Keeping The Dream Alive” (the track that most resembles the Macca vs. ELO description) attracted plenty of attention and decent airplay but the album didn’t quite grab the attention of a bigger U.S. audience. Well, that is until the 1989 movie SAY ANYTHING introduced the song to a much wider audience. From that moment on, “Keeping The Dream Alive” became an inspiration to so many. A new generation heard it when it became a moving moment on AMERICAN IDOL. However, there is more to the album than that one song. The Beatles and ELO influences are still strong on FANTASY but the album takes a decidedly upbeat Europop twist after “Keeping The Dream Alive.” “Kissed You In The Rain” has an anthemic Synth Dance groove, as does “Tears Are A Girl’s Best Friend.” Vocalist Stefan Zauner’s McCartney-esque voice is often joined by some gloriously big harmonies that leap out of the grooves, bathing the listener in sweet bliss. While the album is predominantly upbeat, there are softer moments – “Diana,” “Moonlight,” “Forever And A Day” - strategically placed in order to give the listener a chance to relax before the next blast of Beatles-influenced Europop. The album finds Freiheit at height of their powers. Maybe too slick for some, FANTASY is a Pop lover’s feast.

Cherry Red Records has just issued the definitive two CD edition of FANTASY, combining both the English and German language versions of the album with the addition of essential bonus tracks. Not only will you find the stunning extended mix of “Keeping The Dream Alive” (complete with the extended version featuring an amazing Brian May-like guitar solo) but you’ll also find two versions of “Baby It’s You,” the English version of the band’s magnificent 1986 single “Tausendmal Du.” Add on even more versions of “Keeping The Dream Alive” and remixes of other album tracks and you’ve got a solid first disc. The second CD features the German language album (with the ‘rock’ version of "So Lang' man Träume noch leben kann" AKA “Keeping The Dream Alive”) plus various non-album mixes, edits and rarities.

Munchener Freiheit has continued to make albums over the years although Zauner left the band in 2012. Their style of harmony-laden, melodic Europop may not be for everyone… but it should be!

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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