I’ll admit to a certain guilty-pleasure interest in Tokio Hotel, but it’s for almost entirely sentimental reasons. When my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Spain back in the summer of 2005, we would sometimes put MTV Europe on in our hotel room. Unlike the North American versions of MTV, the European ones still show music videos, although they never seem to have more than five in rotation at any one time. The big hits while we were there? Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, “La Camisa Negra” by Juanes, “Maria” by US5, Shakira’s “La Tortura”, and “Durch den Monsun” by Germany’s Tokio Hotel.
The song was a catchy bit of decidedly retro-leaning angst-rock, like Nirvana with the edges sanded off, and it was sung by an androgynous pixie with long black bangs combed down over his left eye. That was then 15-year-old Bill Kaulitz, backed by his dreadlocked twin brother Tom on guitar, along with the two guys no one really cares about (bassist Georg Listing and drummer Gustav Schí¤fer, just in case anyone does).
For a couple of years, Tokio Hotel was our little secret. Then, in 2007, someone in a suit decided that it was time for the band to crack the English-speaking market. This led to the release of Scream, which featured English versions of songs from Tokio Hotel’s first two albums, Schrei and Zimmer 483. And that’s when the group’s appeal began to wear thin. Bill’s voice had changed, losing some of its adolescent charm. What’s worse, he was now singing in translation, which not only didn’t sound as good, but also revealed that we were better off not knowing what he was saying.
That holds true for the English version of the new Tokio Hotel album, Humanoid, which kicks off with “There are days when you feel so small/And you know you could be so tall.” I don’t know what those lines from “Noise” are in der Deutschen sprache, but it’s got to be better than that, nein?
Lost-in-translation issues aside, the main problem with Humanoid is that it largely dispenses with the notion of Tokio Hotel as a rock band. The group’s regular producer (and manager and cowriter) David Jost recruited hit-making team the Matrix, who gave a couple of the songs a pop sheen, complete with layers of keyboards and programming, not to mention Auto-Tune and vocoders. Tokio Hotel is in there somewhere, but it’s hard to tell exactly where when listening to the electro-disco verses of “Dogs Unleashed” or the machine-tooled emo-pop of “Automatic”. The biggest hint that most of the ideas on display were generated by people outside of the band is the fact that the beat and main guitar riff of “Human Connect to Human” are lifted directly from Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”. Not to get all holier-than-thou, but that really is an unforgivable musical sin.
It’s not all bad news, though. Bill Kaulitz has grown into his voice, and he hits it out of the park on the album’s many stadium-sized choruses. That includes the one on “Humanoid”, a rocker with a metallic guitar riff beefy enough to cut through all the gloss. This suggests that Tokio Hotel can still rock out when it needs to, and that’s a language that anyone can understand.
Download This: “Humanoid”