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P!OFF?: P!OFF?

Maybe the German synth-pop trio P!OFF? would have done better with a less complicated, antagonistic name. After all, anyone who heard their self-titled 1982 album and dared to ask who was playing would have been met with what for all the world would seem like a curt dismissal. Maybe that was by some kind of dada design; but the group’s music was entirely accessible synth-pop. Bureau B has reissued the album, and with the vinyl going for under $16, low for the generally overpriced reissue market, why not relive a part of the ‘80s you never knew about?

Every one of the eight tracks here is incessantly catchy and frenetic, and although English lyric translations are not provided, the guttural German consonants convey their own stark meaning. For opener “Das dicke Kind” “The Fat Child” that meaning is likely sinister, given a tone that’s both upbeat and brooding; sprinkled amid the programmed drums, chiming guitars and dramatic keyboards, an electronic dog barks. On the second track P!OFF? come up with one for the ages, the moderately successful and to some degree self-translated single “Mein Walkman ist kaputt.” The shimmering keyboard lines and nervous melody sound like they come from a more agitated Thomas Dolby. One might extrapolate that the lyrics address the fallibility of new, disposable technology, suggesting a commercial dystopia to a boogie beat. An instrumental break quoting the “Peter Gunn” theme evokes a criminal element. It’s not proper to guess, but that’s part of the fun.

“Pass auf!” seems to teach the listener how to parse the band’s idiosyncratic punctuation, and the rapid-fire keyboard riff makes this self-reflexive anthem pretty irresistible, even if the title and the electric guitar bursts sounds confrontational. It’s hard to remember at this late date that skinny tie bands and neon hairdos were part of what then passed as counterculture rebellion, or so it seemed at the time. P!OFF? knew how to put an album together; this up-tempo assault is followed by the sultry slowdown of “In der Nacht,” prickly guitar licks delivering the mood as much as the florescent synths and heavy-breathed vocals.

P!OFF? was snapped up as part of the Ariola label’s frenzy for Neue Deutsche Welle, the post-punk subgenre that spawned the likes of DAF and Fehlfarben. The thing is, by 1982, “that ship ha[d] sailed,” as guitarist Alex Weidner put it. In a press release, Weidner explains that he continued to make music with bassist Jochen Schmidtke and keyboardist Thomas Vesely, but they morphed with the times into indie rock, grunge and eventually circling back to electronica. Schmidtke even has a vocal credit for a 1994 German production of Grease. The synth-pop dream was reawakened when, to help celebrate Weidner’s 50th birthday in 2009, they performed some of the P!OFF? material in concert, and it’s no surprise it was a hit.

P!OFF? was very much of its time, and there’s only so far one can go with this template. But the trio was perfectly in tune with that fleeting moment of NDW, and the ’80s nostalgia machine, now slow and aged, will be glad that there’s only 34 minutes of it, so that they can take a well-deserved nap after all that reminiscing.

Summary
Every one of the eight tracks here is incessantly catchy and frenetic, and although English lyric translations are not provided, the guttural German consonants convey their own stark meaning.
75 %
Quirky Synth-pop

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