Their success began early, vaulting a self-produced debut EP into gold sales status (1982’s Pleasure Victim). From there, the band earned a major label deal with Geffen, where they went on to produce enduringly edgy tunes like “No More Words,” “Now It’s My Turn” and “Take My Breath Away,” the smoldering, Giorgio Moroder-produced love song that propelled the sales of millions of copies of the Top Gun soundtrack. “Take My Breath Away” also spawned an international number-one single, a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award.
After a few line-up changes and many years spent performing countless live dates, Berlin wound down in the late Eighties. But after years of being encouraged to revitalize the band, Terri Nunn conceded in 1998.
Voyeur, Berlin’s first studio effort since 1986’s Count Three and Pray, is no Eighties reunion rehash. Not content to do ‘greatest hits’ tours, Voyeur is the sound of a fresh and confident band that knows the strength of their new material is as good or better than any other electronica act today. Berlin’s now got a more multi-layered sound rhythmically, and Terri Nunn’s voice sounds more mature than ever before.
You can hear it instantly, as the storming “Blink of an Eye,” is sure to capture both radio and dance floors with its arresting combination of club beats and Nunn’s hypnotic vocals kick in with an uplifting chorus: “In the blink of an eye/You can turn off your mind/In the beat of a drum/You can dance ‘til the sun…”
Voyeur was produced by keyboardist/writer/producer Mitchell Sigman and Peter Rafelson (whose writing credits include tunes penned for Madonna, Stevie Nicks and The Corrs). They brought their diverse influences into the mix to join those of Terri Nunn, who has also spent the last 10 years working at times on solo efforts and collaborating with an impressive range of artists. Musical and writing partners have spanned from Karl Hyde of British electronica super-group Underworld and Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano to Tool’s Danny Carey and the one and only Sisters of Mercy. Her home turntable shows an equally diverse love of current and classic music.
“Music saved me in my childhood,” says Terri Nunn. “We moved around so much that I didn’t have a lot of friends so I listened excessively to music because it was something I could actually take with me from one house to another. And it really was my friend - it helped me through a lot.” Among the musicians who were often packed in her suitcase: Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Pink Floyd, T.Rex, David Bowie and Bonnie Raitt. “Then disco happened and that totally sucked,” she laughs,”and then punk happened and made me really excited again. Punk is the reason that Berlin happened at all. If it wasn’t for punk, Berlin would never have existed.”
So as you’d expect, the inspirations on Voyeur run far and wide, traipsing across multiple genres of dance music (from downtempo to trance), often threading them with more traditional rock foundations (as in the guitar treated masterpiece of “Lost My Mind”). Nunn’s mother’s bout with cancer formed the backbone to the gorgeously tense “Stronger Than Steel.” While at the total opposite end of the emotional spectrum lies the adrenaline-pumping dance anthem “Shiny,” which was written to capture the joyful magic of Nunn’s first rave experience, in the middle of the Southern California desert. “Sacred and Profane” was co-written by Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins and now Zwan) and is loosely inspired by the late INXS heartthrob Michael Hutchence, whom Nunn dated briefly in the Eighties.
“Billy wrote a (Smashing Pumpkins) song called "Shame" to Michael, so our mutual admiration for Michael Hutchence brought this about,” she explains. “In the Eighties we were on the same label as INXS in England so we got passes to one of their shows over there in a little club. I lost my mind, I’ve never been so 12-years-old, drooling over a guy in my life!
Writing with Corgan was a good experience; she already had the basis for the song before he arrived in the studio. “And what was so great about working with him is that he’s so emotional. He brought emotions out of that song that I didn’t even know were there.”
Remember that Terri Nunn is the same self-assured young woman who sang such bold (and over-exaggerated) proclamations as, “I’m a slut!” nearly 20 years ago with the hit “Sex (I’m A),” which succeeded despite censorship and outright bans from commercial radio stations. She has long demonstrated herself as a woman unafraid to extend the boundaries of feminist identity and sexual politics, including on Voyeur. “Stranger on the Bus,” one such provocative song, confronts a dangerous topic, that of the rape fantasy. But Nunn’s quick to point out that this particular idea was conceived to challenge conventions within the space of a monogamous relationship. And where “Sex(I’m A)” was fun, “Stranger on the Bus” is not quite as innocent.
As for “Drug,” Nunn explains its figurative germination by way of a look into the goals of the band. “One is to expose or express the sexuality of a woman, as opposed to the sexuality of a girl, which is what Berlin used to be about,” Nunn told CNN.com in 1999. “And also to get people to understand the drug that is music. The truth about human beings is we like to get high, and the concert experience is a true high…for performers AND audience. AS Michael Stipe once said, “Adrenaline is stronger and more addictive than heroin. It is. It’s a great way to get really blasted.”
It’s amazing watching Berlin come alive at concerts, spurring the crowd with lots of dancing and energy…the sets are playful and are likely to include cover versions of past and current favorites (recent shows have seen a fiery take on Marilyn Manson’s “The Dope Show” and perennial Southern California favorite “Never Let Me Down Again” by Depeche Mode). It’s something that has been honed over time, during the years in between working on recordings with labels, and has allowed the band to stay in touch with fans old and new.
She’s proud of her lasting achievements, but don’t expect Terri Nunn and Berlin to rest on them. “I feel now, even in listening to the music back then, it was much simpler. The first Berlin record was much simpler. And that doesn’t mean better or worse because records like The Metro stands up for the audiences and even for me - even now. But I have more colors to play with now. There’s just more textures and more options to me as a musician. So Berlin is more textured than it was before. And I’m a better writer. Berlin as a live band is unbelievably better. Even members of the previous Berlin have told me that!”
High praise, indeed.
Berlin Bio from Discogs
Mainly known for the 1986 Giorgio Moroder produced hit Take My Breath Away (from the movie Top Gun), as well as earlier songs such as The Metro, Sex & No More Words.
Split up in 1987. John Crawford went on to form the alternative rock act "The Big F". Terri Nunn resurrected Berlin in 1999 with a new band lineup, and she has been performing live & recording studio material since then.