On-Ramp to Style


At first glance, the cover of the Gentlemen of Leisure CD seemed like a boring attempt at “style,” but now it strikes me as a charmingly austere attempt to pretend to evoke opulence—the two gentlemen, each wearing an expensive dress-up suit, are standing next to an automobile that would have seemed futuristic in a low-budget 1960s British spy film, though the car is actually a Delorean. Its doors open out into strange wing-like flaps. You expect it suddenly to go airborne, or to launch natty spies with parachutes. The gents and the car are next to what seems to be a highway on-ramp, and that’s all you can tell, pretty much, because they and the car and the on-ramp are all that’s in the picture, signifying perhaps that if one is a gentleman of leisure, one has no need of scenery, since one carries one’s landscape of style within oneself. (Is this what the young and the leisured do in their spare time, stand by highway on-ramps?)

The expensive suits are cleverly incongruous in this context (i.e., a modern-day dance LP that plumps for leisure), given that no one wears such a suit in his leisure hours anymore. Suits are the work uniforms of corporate employees or are brought out on state occasions, or for 80th birthdays and opening nights at the opera. The suits seem humorous to me. The whole getup is humorous: the suits, the car, the highway. The inner photo has the two gents striding through an airport. I imagine that they’re pretending to be the jet-setting equivalent of beach bums: We’re just sashaying around in airports being, you know, stylish.

The Gentlemen of Leisure are Karl Heinz and Dieter Muller. Karl, a Capricorn, was born in Hamburg. “No one has a better sense of humor than that Capricorn.” Dieter is from Stuttgart. As a youth, he made spontaneous trips to the many natural hot springs that litter the area. Turn-offs include veal and cheap denim. (This is so you don’t mistakenly think he was ever in Norwegian “gay” punk band Turbonegro, who proclaim, “Turbonegro wears Levi’s Denim or they wear nothing at all.”)

Karl’s turn-offs include saxophones (for not being as funny as tubas, presumably).

The lyrics fall likably between tenuously emotional and casually ad hoc—that is, between (1) We are Displaying Our Finely Tuned Emotions, and (2) If Songs Must Have Words, I Suppose We Should At Least Make Them Rhyme. So you get the preposterously metaphoric (“You’re sweet and tender driving my desire/Pull out the blowtorch and light my fire”), the functional (“When the party’s just begun/You know you’ll be the only one”), the not even functional (“I see you movin’ in those tight blue jeans/You get the point, you know what I mean”), and the cheerfully beside the point (“Southern seas, ocean breeze/the letters that you sent to me”).

I’d call the vocals “fey,” though “fey” might just be strategy for a couple of guys with high and not-at-all-powerful voices. “Fey” is preferable to plaintive, if one is a gentleman of leisure. As for the music itself, it’s excellent—early-’80s dance-wave and electro beats and Europop riffs, sweet melodies, catchy rhythms, nine good songs out of nine tracks (plus one authoritatively inept “skit” that has the gentlemen, speaking in ridiculously fake sophisticated accents, at a retail counter, buying a wallet: “Is the leather textured? I wanted the more textured look”). With all the lame-ass quasi-electro stuff out now, this is a record you might actually want to play next to Kraftwerk or Human League or Soul Sonic Force or the Flirts.

“I wanna be your boy toy/Won’t you be my boy toy?” So, as Karl and Dieter commit themselves to poignantly uncommitted sex, the background blips go off dancing tunefully on their own. (Germany, land of the rising blip.) I’d say the “style” and “sensibility” are mainly pretexts to allow these two fellows to indulge their gifts for melody: melodies sung, melodies buzzed, melodies beeped. Melodies up with the vocals, melodies down with the synths, melodies in with the whooshes and off with the whirrs. But then, the melodies add flair to the whole image. And so what initially looked glum, turns out to be glam.