Wolfgang Ambros, Wie im Schlaf – Lieder von Bob Dylan, 1978

It seems to me that any male pop artist singing in German always sounds exactly like Falco. The problem for me is that I owned Falco’s 3 in 1985 (with the hit single “Rock Me Amadeus”) and played it to death, but I couldn’t bear to listen to it now. As soon as I started listening to Wolfgang Ambros it occurred to me how awful that Falco album was. Further, there was a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” on 3. Every track here reminds me so much of Falco that poor old Wolfgang, whose rough, slightly hoarse voice sounds exactly like his fellow Austrian, stands no chance with me.

Yeah, I dunno, but if Germans and Austrians are going to sing in their own language they should probably stick to mountain ballads and beer drinking songs. Having said that, Wie im Schlaf (which translates as “As In Sleep” – huh?) isn’t such a bad collection. There’s been a big jump in time between 70s Dylan cover albums—1974 to 1978. Thus there’s a distinct change in production quality. This is starting to sound more like 80s pop with its slightly shiny quality and the odd synth line. Ambros’s accent with its harsh German syllables makes for an odd listen – it never sounds like the words fit with the rhythm terribly well but then I don’t know German, so I’m probably not qualified to comment. At the end of this review you’ll see the back cover filled with German text. That text tells an interesting little story which I’ve translated (courtesy of Google) and included at the end of this post. Der…eins, tsvey, drei, vier Bumschtead…

Allan wia a Stan (Like A Rolling Stone)…  opens in pretty much the same mode as the original, tune-wise, but the instrumentation, as I said above, is all a bit ‘nice’ and ‘shiny’. There’s a wiggly little electric guitar adding frills in between gaps in the vocal lines, while the main rhythm is played on acoustic guitar. I have to say though that it all sounds a little bit karaoke to me. And as someone who has sung this song numerous times at karaoke, in Japan no less, you can rest assured I’m well qualified to make that observation. The closer I listen to it, the lamer it starts to sound. There’s no wild mercurial sound, just a clockwork drum beat, with an electric guitar part that sounds made to order. The nicest part is the crisp rhythm guitar and then you’ve got Ambros himself going through the motions, not really singing as if his life depended on it. It’s all very pleasant, though it has infinite more spark than Dave Travis’s hideous effort from 1971.

Da Mensche in mir (The Man In Me)… opens with a delicate acoustic guitar and a choir harmonizing “Ooh / Aah / Ooh / Aah” over top of some pretty vibes in the background. This has slightly more of a folky feel to it – Ambros sings in a quieter, smoother voice. I have to say though that I can barely remember Dylan’s original version (from New Morning) so this version isn’t leaving much of an impression on me. It’s nice enough.

Des Sandler’s Flucht (Drifter’s Escape)… has always been a favourite of mine from John Wesley Harding. And this works really well because it’s just a crisp drum beat, a punchy acoustic rhythm guitar, some augmentation from electric guitar, but thankfully Ambros maintains the simple vibe of the original. It’s a little more ‘pop’ than Dylan’s original though not a patch on Joan Baez’s brilliant version. The instrumental break takes things up a notch with a bluesy bar band-style electric guitar solo as the song fades out. Best track so far.

I bin’s ned (It Ain’t Me Babe)… is quite different. It starts out all familiar but when we get to the chorus it goes all Carribean pop on us, with a distinct reggae feel. It’s something of a surprise, and yet I quite like it because he’s doing something different. The funky little Carribean rhythm works well with the jaunty piece of electric guitar that accompanies it. Yes, I’m going to give this the thumbs up—it’s actually genuinely funny and anyone who can make me laugh while covering Dylan is usually doing something right. As for Ambros’s voice – as I said earlier, he has the slightest hoarseness to his voice, a bit like say Peter Gabriel, but it’s enough to make him sound interesting.

Corrina, Corrina… and again, I’d feel like a big meanie if I slapped him here when I marveled over Hugues Aufray’s version in French. This is just as good mainly because he keeps it simple. Just a straightforward beat, rhythm guitar, and a weird part that sounds like an amateur playing the recorder for the bridge. Even his voice is much softer here, as he reaches for the high notes. I love this song and I’m going to applaud Mr Ambros for his pleasant version, which sounds just fine in German.

Wahre Liebe (Love Minus Zero/No Limit)… is a much fuller sound with piano, drums, bass and rhythm guitar. Ambros launches straight into the lyrics and I have to say, close listening reveals that his voice is nowhere near as horrid as Falco’s. Generally he’s softer but there’s still some dry cold tonal quality that must surely be peculiar to the German accent. The problem with this version is that all the timing is so perfect that we’ve sort of gone back to karaoke again. Like, all the frills and adornments are played and placed perfectly into their respective slots and instead of that freewheelin’ feel you end up with German precision stealing the soul out of the song.

Fruher oder spatter (One Of Must Know)… also has a full sound with more of a chiming guitar part ringing across the bars. It’s a bit slow, or at least sounds slow because of Ambros’s inability to sing the words with any real feeling beyond fitting them exactly to the plodding rhythm. He gets a bit more excited in the chorus but it all feels like business as usual. That shiny competent feel all sounds a bit tired to someone who’s written song-by-song commentaries of about twenty three Dylan cover albums so far. It’s time to start changing the formula chaps. (Do check out my Michael Wiehe (1982) review when I get round to it—that is by far the weirdest Dylan cover album I’ve ever heard.) So yeah, time to start innovating a little, going out on a limb, changing the style, but for the most part, Ambros and his band just play the songs without much oomph. The only one that’s really stood out was his reggae version of “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

Achilles (Temporary Like Achilles)… nice swinging rhythm with a jaunty piano part. I’m running out of things to say about these. This is the first to use what almost (but not quite) sounds like a pedal steel guitar. It’s not – it’s just someone bending notes on their electric guitar with the aid of a sustain pedal. I have to remember that this is for the Austrian market. I’m not catching any meaning out of the lyrics so I guess I’m only getting half the picture. Great tune though and despite the merely competent feel this one gets quite bluesy in places with that nice electric guitar sound.

Sie g’hort zu mir (She Belongs To Me)… opens with a processed guitar sound that sounds like a heavy metal riff repeated over. I’m struggling to hear the original tune in this. This is a little weird. The beat stops, and there’s this faintly whining keyboard sound. This sounds nothing like a Dylan song and everything like heavy metal-lite. It’s bloody horrible. I can’t even hear a semblance of the Dylan song in this at all. Good riddance to that.

Denk ned noch (Don’t Think Twice)… is played on piano and lightly plucked acoustic guitar with an organ filling in all the spaces before the drums kick in after a minute or so. Once again, I’m sitting here thinking – is this really the great Dylan song, “Don’t Think Twice”?  Really? Impossible. This is bizarre. Oh and then we get a horrible synthesizer playing some hideously high pitched notes in place of the organ from earlier. Oh man, and then the electric guitar goes all Chris Rea/Bruce Hornsby on us, all sort of soaring soft rock notes, a yelled out vocal, a delicate piano line played out as the organ fades. Ugh. He just went all soft rock on us. What a horrible way to end.

So I would say it’s pretty apparent by the tone of my review that this was a complete waste of time. It’s pretty boring and it even finished with two tracks that if I hadn’t seen the original title written on the back sleeve, I’d have had no idea what the songs even were. Sorry Wolfgang—I was quite prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt there for a minute (note my mid-album enthusiasm) but ultimately this is a big fail.

Notes

Wolfgang Ambros was pretty popular on the Austrian pop music scene for a number of years, a major player in the scene known as “Austropop.” Among 30 odd albums, one of them was an album of Tom Waits covers released in 2000. He was born in 1952 making him 26 at the time he recorded Wie im Schlaf. Apparently his biggest hit was an anthem he wrote for the Austrian ski industry. Oh, and in 2002 he won an Austrian music award called the “Amadeus” thus linking us back up to Falco. Urgh.

The translated text from the back cover

There was once a mountain. Beside it was a hill and a valley lying between. One day three people came along and decided to stay in the area. There were two men and a woman. One man was tall and strong, and when he saw the place, he immediately said, “I’ll go to the mountain.” Then he turned and walked away, but after a few steps, he stopped and called the other man to himself. “Come with me to the mountain!” he shouted and waved his arms. But the other man who was much smaller and not nearly as strong, looked timidly up at him and said softly, “I cannot.” The big man looked puzzled and asked, “Why not?” The little man made ​​a sad face and whispered: “I want to go to the hill.” The big man laughed and cried out “Why do you want to go up the little hill. If we go up to the highest point we’ll have the world at our feet! Come with me, and perhaps we can even see the sea! ‘”I cannot,” said the little man again, and you could see that he was shaking. “You’re a weakling and a coward. Shame on you!” said the big man with great contempt, and turned once more to go. With large, vigorous steps he took off rapidly, and soon one could hear his laughter quietly in the distance.

Thus each of them went his way. The woman remained in the valley, because it pleased her, and she was satisfied. The little man went to the hill, and thus they sheltered for a long time, away from each other. But one day the woman began to feel lonely and said to herself, “I’ll go visit someone.” She thought of the big, strong man, and sighed. The mountain was so high that she could not even see the summit. How could she ever reach it? It was not possible. So she made her way to visit the man on the hill. When it was evening, she arrived at his small house. The little man was delighted about the visit and was very kind to her. They decided to stay together and were very happy. The tall man stood on the mountain, and he could actually see the sea.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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3 Responses to Wolfgang Ambros, Wie im Schlaf – Lieder von Bob Dylan, 1978

  1. Vau says:

    Hi Alan, W.Ambros has another record with cover versions witch is better and deals with Tom Waits Songs.
    Cheers
    vau

  2. Myrtonos says:

    Here is the official website, I tried to contact Wolfgang but there is a very difficult captcha there, all my attempts at getting through it have failed. I have now joined a forum but I have found myself unable to make any posts.

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