59. Der Kommisar: The CBS Recordings – After the Fire
DER KOMMISAR: THE CBS RECORDINGS
LASER LOVE (1979) 80-F (1980) BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED (1982)
After The Fire (ATF)
I will admit from the outset that the inclusion of this particular is a bit unfair, but I am including the entire discography of After the Fire under one title because it is the only way any ATF music has been released on CD other than a similarly named Best Of compilation that was terribly mastered. And since the only title ever released in the U.S. was actually just a “best of” compilation including this incredible band under these circumstances seems justified. I will primarily focus songs that were on the original U.S. title and other key songs.
After floundering for many years as a “prog” band in the UK sounding more like Genesis and Yes then anything like the music contained on this collection, a young guitarist named Andy Piercy joined the group and things changed. Piercy was one half of the popular British Christian duo Ishmael and Andy. They recorded one project together that I am familiar with. Though Piercy was a member of the more progressive band, he would later show his more pop leanings in songs written for the bands new formation.
Another key addition was after the departure of bassist Nick Battles, John Russell joining the band on guitar and Piercy moving to bass. Russell played a more punk pop style guitar with faster hooks that played perfectly into founder and keyboardists Peter Banks’ musical direction. Several drummers would work their way through the bands line-up over the years, though most notable was Ivor Twydell, who released three Christian album after leaving under the name Iva Twydell. Twydell has since converted to Buddhism.
For trivia’s sake it should be noted that the other half of the group, Ishmael and Andy, went on to record a wonderful ska/punk project under the name Ishmael United entitled “If You Can’t Shout You’ll Have to Face the Penalty” discussed previously.
With the changes in line-up came the changes in direction of the band as they began to morph from a prog rock band to a more synth driven new wave. This also brought with it an even stronger evangelical Christian influence though the entire band (at least the core members) were Christians all well. Their faith was quite clear on many of the their songs like Laser Love, One Rule for You and Take Me Higher.
Ironically to American audience they are simply known as the band that did the English version of Der Kommisar. The true irony is that the band had pretty much broken up by the time that song soared to the top of the charts in the U.S. The often confusing song was a cover of a Falco tune sung originally in German. The anti-drug song became the only hit in the U.S. for the band despite having significantly more success in Europe and the UK.
“Der Kommisar” never appeared on any official ATF album. It’s lone appearance was on the one ATF album released in the US, which was simply a best of with “Der Kommisar” added.
The debut (of sorts) kicks off with one of the bands most popular numbers and immediately presented the new musical direction. Electronic sounds, heavy on keyboards and a more static and fast paced guitar riff sound, the band was the definition of new wave.
Your love is like a laser burning right into my life
You knowing my weaknesses you cut me like a knife
You’re separating all the wrong things from the right
With strong melodies, creative keyboards and new wave Euro vocals the song is immediately likable. And though, like the lyrics above, the majority of content is not deep or overly creative that vibe and joy expressed throughout ATF’s music make them a wonderfully enjoyable listen. But the reader be warned, this is true euro new wave with all the glitz, glam and sugary pop hooks one can muster. But hidden within the simple lyrics and memorable hooks are some very well crafted pop tunes.
“Joy” follows with what would become an ATF hallmark; the quirky, high energy instrumental. I remember local radio stations using ATF’s instrumentals as background music for commercials as they presented a high energy and fun background without a general familiarity as to draw attention away from the actual verbiage in the commercial. The instrumentals, especially the one here, tended to be more keyboard driven.
“Take Me Higher” is a personal favorite and seems a little bit like an SAT test with all the comparing and contrasting going on.
I am a minute and you are an hour
I am a room and you are a tower
I am a motion and you are the power, you are the power
I am a word and you are the line
I am a poem and you are the rhyme
I am a watch and you are the time you are time
You make my life worth living, you set this world on fire n’ just
When I think its over, you take me higher, you take me higher
Sung about as quickly as one can possibly enunciate, the live version (available n this double disc) is pure energy. And really that’s what ATF brought to their music, a certain energy that was infectious, enjoyable and just plain fun. They even included several instrumentals on their projects showing that the former prog band never lost their musical chops. My introduction to ATF was actually the liver version of this song as it was a regular song on the “rock” show on KYMS radio.
“Life in the City” continues in the pop hit making while “Suspended Animation” has a more Gary Numan odd feel to it. In fact, there is a little David Bowie there that sets it apart from the normal pop arrangements that fill the rest of the album.
“Like the Power of Jet” sounds suspiciously like “Take Me Higher” musically with a drastically different vocal line. The end result is a song that can be forgotten but shouldn’t be.
The highlight of the album, and possibly the bands finest effort, is “One Rule For You.” Carrying the same theme as David Edwards’ “Commercial Suicide,” the band bemoans the fact that an artist can discuss nearly any subject, including religious affiliation, unless that religion is Christianity. The rejection of the Christian theme on pop radio is not a new phenomenon. The mid-tempo pop number shows exactly how a keyboard driven song should be performed and arranged. Great vocals here as well.
Oddly enough their biggest hit in the UK is actually a song about how an artist can sing about any subject and receive radio airplay until that same artist writes a song about their Christian faith. This truth extended into the public square and how all topics are free game except for Christianity.
They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else
What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me
The band returns to The Knack type pop rock with “Time to Think.” There are also touches on the Romantics and The baby’s here as well. Vocals are shared here and the diversity helps. Nice guitar touches help propel the song.
Every time I hear the instrumental “Timestar” I think Eddie DeGarmo must have been a fan. Not because of the musical arrangement, but the quirky keyboard sounds that would later appear on D&K albums during their “keyboard” era.
“Check It Out” closes the album with a pure infectious romp that must have been a blast live. I can imagine the live crowd screaming out the chorus while pogo-ing and bopping throughout the hall. A false ending and quick return only adds to the energy level.
CBS originally rejected the initial version of this album and this caused a shake-up in the band with some departures and new additions, most notable the addition of The Flys drummer Peter King. Some of the changes are said to have been more “pop” songs lyrically and a toned down spirituality.
The second album kicks off with another instrumental, the title track. More guitar oriented than most of the other instrumentals, the song is fantastic. I doubt a band could get away with this today.
One of my all time favorite ATF songs follows with “Love Will Always Make You Cry.” One of the few songs that are clearly not aimed for christian radio, but for mainstream consumption, it possesses such a great bridge and hook that it comes to mind by just hearing the title.
“Can You Face It” sounds way too much like other ATF songs that it just doesn’t stand out on its own, while the following song, “Whose Gonna Love You (When You’re Old, Fat and Ugly)” sounds like nothing else in the bands repertoire. The mean title belies a humorous indictment against selfish, self-centered and egotistical people.
“Starflight” is almost an instrumental. though it contains a clear verse/chorus structure, the lyrics are limited and the story is told brilliantly through the musical arrangement. One gets the feeling of flight through space as the lyrics describe the Rapture (?).
“Wild West Show” is quirky and fun and “Billy, Billy” is the best rock offering in the bands catalog. The former looks at life as though we are all actors on a stage, while the latter describes the impact on ones life when rock star status is reached. “Billy, Billy” feels real, as though the band is talking from experience. The song describes a former bandmate that “makes it” and changes to a point where he doesn’t even recognize his old friends.
“High Fashion” continues the constant theme of the dangers of falling for the world’s traps of power, money and fame. “Why Can’t We Be Friends” is reminiscent of “Check It Out” and sounds like a concert and album closer. But the album actually closes with “Joanna,” a song that really stands out for sounding more like Queen and very little like ATF.
BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED
Many argue Batteries Not Included is the best of the three albums and i really can’t disagree. There are so many great songs on this album and a growth in songwriting.
“Short Change” kicks off the album with a song I’m sure was meant for radio success that didn’t materialize. Fun and poppy, but perhaps too much like previous hits.
“Frozen Rivers” is a great example of the growth of the band musically and lyrically. There is much more going on here than in much of the bands history, with a great chorus and fine tuned lyrical approach. A cold heart is likened to a frozen river that never reaches the sea.
“Sometimes” is a personal favorite and always reminded me of the best pop rock from the Knack. What from the initial listen sounds like a fun rockin’ love song is actually a tune about God’s unending love and His refusal to let us go. The best guitar work of any ATF song.
“Sailing Ship” is the closest the band gets to its previous incarnation, with the big drums, slow, building arrangement and obscure vocals. Very Genesis like here, but works well within the new direction as a slower paced new wave song with prog leanings.
One song that should have been a hit was “I Don’t Understand Your Love.” In the vein of “Billy, Billy,” the song just has radio written all over it, but perhaps a few years too late.
“The Stranger” is really a nod to their progressive roots. Dark and mysterious musically and an odd, spoken word verse structure and processed, off-beat, choir-like vocals in the chorus really makes the song a stand out, if only for its attempt at originality.
“Rich Boys” follows with what we expect from ATF. Great groove and fun and memorable chorus. Once again the world of popularity and fame is critiqued. There was a great 12 inch dance version of this song released.
Like the previous “Sailing Ship,” the song “Carry Me Home” covers similar ground musically with a touch the Genesis sound the spaceship like imagery.
One of the great travesty’s in the bands history is that they broke up before the US had a chance to discover them. I recall hearing “Dancing in the Shadows” and just wondering how this song was not a number one hit. It was a minor hit when CBS released the “best of” project and released it as a follow up to “Der Kommisar.” This song also had a great 12 inch dance remake released.
Continuing with the space theme is “Space Walking,” nearly an instrumental, but some limited vocals. But the vocals are mixed so far back that they are impossible to really decipher and sound more like the instrumentation than like a lead vocal. Mostly forgettable.
“Gina” is an odd little tune. Last just 1:30, it tells the story of a young girl lost with just a keyboard accompaniment.
“Stuck in Paris (Nowhere to Go)” and “Bright Lights” close with a similar rock driven edge that one would have hoped was the musical growth direction the band would take in future releases. But, instead, they would be the last songs recorded by the band.
The inclusion of all three album here under the CBS Recordings title is listed here as an average of where I would have placed the three albums separately. One of the titles would have been listed higher, another lower and one about at this point, so listing this title here represents an overage of the three releases.
There have been occasional reunions, reworked singles and concerts over the last several years. The fanbase has actually grown larger over the years as new generations discover this great British pop band. Their history is nearly legendary for a band that can’t lay claim to all that many hits or best-selling albums.
There have been a few reunion shows over the years including a famous “standing room only” performance at the world-famous Greenbelt festival in 2004. The band is primarily fronted by Russell and Banks.
Andy Piercy has ultimately made the greatest impact on the Christian Music scene. In fact Piercy has been more important to the growth of CCM’s most popular format of music than possibly any other artists though many fans have no idea who he is. As the leading proponent, producer and developer of modern worship talent in the UK Piercy is responsible for introducing to the marketplace artist like Split Level, Delirious and Matt Redman. He was one of the originators of the famous Soul Survivor worship conferences.