There's something lost in translation on Tokio Hotel's Humanoid

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      Tokio Hotel
      Humanoid (Universal)

      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”

      Comments

      31 Comments

      desi

      Oct 5, 2009 at 11:32am

      Don't care. Still loving them. It's good that they are experimenting with new sounds.

      13 8Rating: +5

      HollyQ

      Oct 5, 2009 at 12:19pm

      You don't like more electronic direction they went - fine, but The Matrix was practically cut from the album, if you look at the credits. Yes, they were involved with "Human Connect to Human" and the bonus tracks on the Deluxe version, but that's it. Most of the album is the original team that includes the Kaulitz twins and David Jost, only this time the Kaulitzes also co-produced. The brothers, in fact have more of a hand in Humanoid than the previous albums, so implications that this album, while highly produced, is less genuine than they are is pretty much based on personal sentiment.

      16 8Rating: +8

      Anonymous

      Oct 5, 2009 at 12:40pm

      I'm loving the new sound and am impressed by the new album - I actually wasn't really a fan of their music before - but sadly the comment about the German lyrics having to be better doesn't hold true all the way on this album. A lot of the songs were actually written in English first and then translated to German, so there's some REALLY awkward German in there this time around.

      11 8Rating: +3

      Vnlasteamer

      Oct 5, 2009 at 12:43pm

      I think it's cool that you have your own sentimental connection to the band. I know some fans feel similarly and miss the old days. I must disagree on the musical front - I think the evolution of their sound is amazingly exciting. I bought both albums on Mediamarkt as soon as they came out, and ordered all the English versions through their various retailers, and I can definitively say that the songs will have been worth all of it. I am so addicted to this album and I've barely had it. It knocked all my favorite songs in the world off the top of my list. I think a lot of the English lyrics are great, some have weaknesses... but I spent last night doing a full one-to-one manual translation of ALL the German lyrics, and the depth and beauty there is SHOCKING. It's amazing. And by the way, Bill is credited as a songwriter on all of the songs, and Bill and Tom co-produced the album, so please don't underplay their creative involvement. They are inspirational and very, very talented. By the way, the piano and synth that got added in? Most artists would hire additional musicians or use playback to pull that off live. But Tokio Hotel isn't that kind of band. The guitarist learned to play piano and is going to do it on tour, and the bassist learned keyboards. How amazing is THAT.

      Dominique

      Oct 5, 2009 at 12:49pm

      Even though I don't completely agree, I respect your opinon. Most people would come at Tokio Hotel with rude comments that have nothing to with their music, but with their hatred for Tokio Hotel (mainly the members). They said that this album was sort of like experimentation; using a synthesizer, an orchestra, and other new sounds. It's a diffrent Tokio Hotel, but one has to realize that when they recorded their last albums, they were in their early teens. A lot of growth has happened between then and now. As far as the lyrics being 'easy' or 'too' simple, I believe that its Tokio Hotel's simplicity of their lyrics that make them, them. I love Tokio Hotel, and even though it is a big difference between then and now, I support 100%

      8 9Rating: -1

      John Lucas

      Oct 5, 2009 at 1:20pm

      HollyQ: Thanks for the info. I tried to find as much information as I could about the album's production, but unfortunately the label did not supply me with the liner notes, so I couldn't check the credits. I have amended what I wrote slightly, and I hope it is more accurate.

      Travis Lupick

      Oct 5, 2009 at 1:35pm

      I run into this problem practically every time I listen to a new album. With the rise of iTunes, liner notes have become impossible to find. Why don't artists' official Web sites include liner notes or even a minimal amount of track information?

      14 7Rating: +7

      April

      Oct 5, 2009 at 1:45pm

      Being that I'm not a teen or a "tween", Tokio Hotel is one of my guilty pleasures as well. I first stumbled across them on youtube and I must admit, I think Bill and Tom are right on target with their crazy looks (because that's what got me to watch the video in the first place). Anyways, I would say "Humanoid" sounds much more mainstream than their other albums. I actually think the industrial/electronic vibe suits them quite well, but their English lyrics really need some work. I couldn't help feeling that songs like "Dogs Unleashed" and "Love and Death" were pretty cheesy. Also, if they're going to become mainstream in the U.S., Bill really needs to tone down the prettiness and look a little more butch. Apart from that, I totally dig "Hey You", "World Behind My Wall", and "Dark Side of the Sun". I would love for them to sound more industrial on their next album (think Nine Inch Nails or Orgy).

      Spektrum

      Oct 5, 2009 at 2:09pm

      Song Humanoid is very good. I like the album. Sad to read negative review but being Tokio Hotel fan you grow a hard skin. Although, the last two sentences, somehow, brighten the mood. I'm glad they do their own thing and don't try to fit in some indie rock a la twilight, metal or disney standards, even if they would gain bigger audience. Thumbs up.

      analog

      Oct 5, 2009 at 2:10pm

      the first time i saw this band on the mtv europe awards i thought they were a gag. 4 years later and i still think they're a joke.....