In general, new wave songs do not hold up. There is just something about real (non-synthetic) instruments that never gets old. You may not like classical music, but a violin doesn’t sound stupid. And it isn’t really that synthesizers sound stupid. Listen to Dark Side of the Moon. But in the early 1980s, there was a change going on from analog synths to digital synths. And those early digital synths sucked. They sounded fine at the time but now they make me want to rip my hair out.
But there are songs that manage to overcome this. I’ve discussed this before. But today I offer another such song, Nena’s “99 Luftballons.” I don’t know, maybe it is just one of my blind (Deaf?) spots. Or more likely, the over-polished pop sound of the song just works in contrast to what is actually a really depressing song.
It tells the story of 99 toy balloons being mistaken for alien aircraft. So the military send some fighter jets to check them out. When the pilots find that they are just balloons, they attack them, thinking of themselves as “Captain Kirk.” But everything goes astray as this playful activity is mistaken for an act of war. Thus the 99 balloons lead to 99 years of war and the destruction of the earth.
In some ways, the English translation of the song is better in a purely artistic way. Just the same, it pulls a whole lot of punches. The German song shows far more contempt for the ruling elite. This is a funny thing about Americans: we think of ourselves as such individuals but we yield to power more than most people. And that’s especially true when it comes to the military, which we are supposed to never counter. I’m not too keen on Germany, but this is a damned good pop song.