With the new reissue of Klaus Nomi’s self-titled debut album, Real Gone Music has presented another lost classic album on vinyl for the first time since its original release some three decades ago. It’s one that is full of strangeness, starkness, and subtlety. Klaus Nomi stuns with a diverse repertoire, an over-the-top theatricality, but, more importantly, a dedication to craft that sometimes gets lost in the narrative. Yes, the NYC performance artist collaborated with David Bowie (as seen on SNL circa 1979); he wore outrageous costumes and vaudevillian makeup; and his vocal timbre was unusually high and operatic. While some might label these other-worldly characteristics as head-scratching shticks, they were extensions of Nomi’s persona and an integral part of the art he created during his all-too-short lifetime. Real Gone’s new pressing of his debut album – reissued on fittingly-hued “cabaret smoke” grey vinyl – allows listeners to delve into a diverse group of selections performed as only Nomi could.
If the dramatic album cover wasn’t enough of a clue, just one look at the track listing for Klaus Nomi and you know you’re in for a listening experience unlike any other. The full range of Nomi’s multitude of musical influences are on display here. There are reinvented versions of ’60s hits (including a drastic retelling of a Chubby Checker dance-floor favorite, a recast proto-feminist anthem, and a dramatic reading of a teeny-bopper love song); an interpretation of Saint-Saens’ aria “Samson and Delilah” from Mon coeur s’ouvre à la voix; contributions from New York artist Kristian Hoffman and music producer and frequent Nomi collaborator Man Parrish; a joint effort with guitarist Scott Woody called “Wasting My Time”; and a Nomi original with the Bowie-esque title “Keys of Life.” It’s the latter that opens the album.
“Keys of Life” introduces listeners to an alien character who has departed “from ancient worlds” to assess the future of Earth. The character warns, “Much work has to be done, you’re running out of time – beware the sign.” “Do not ignore advice, you hold the keys of life.” Foreboding synthesizer drones, and multi-layered vocal parts and effects, and a propulsive beat provide a glimpse into one segment of the multi-faceted musical world of Klaus Nomi.
From a futuristic foretelling comes a pair of ’60s classics, reimagined as only Nomi could. The first is a drastic reinterpretation of Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes.” To make the song his own, Nomi employs a particularly ominous vocal style in the verses to re-contextualize the song’s original intent, before shifting into his ethereal countertenor for a truly unique chorus. Next, Nomi reintroduces his “Keys of Life” alien character to give “The Twist” a unique re-casting. “Come on, humans – let’s do The Twist!” it begins. Nomi, as the intergalactic traveler, uncovers the seductively menacing connotations of the song and its hip-swiveling requests.
Nomi’s subversion of classics continues with “You Don’t Own Me.” Originally a hit for Lesley Gore, the powerful track is now considered a feminist anthem. But the song takes on a new life as a gay rights anthem as Nomi delivers the song’s original lyrics in a direct and pointed delivery. “I’m free and I love to be free,” he sings, providing a liberated note for the LGBT community just as Gore did for the burgeoning second-wave feminist movement in the decades prior.
Side Two begins with “The Cold Song,” a dramatic, operatic piece based on a melody from by baroque master Henry Purcell’s 1691 opera King Arthur. With chilling vocal delivery and lyrics alike, it’s an arresting interpretation and yet another example of Nomi’s vast talents. “Wasting My Time,” a co-write by Nomi and Scott Woody is more conventional fare – a disco-tinged heart-breaker with reversed guitars and other effects. “Though I say I’m in love / Just don’t do me no good,” Nomi sings. “Though I say I’m in love / Just don’t feel like it should.” And yet, the narrator concedes that though his time may be better spent elsewhere, “[A]ll I can do, is just thinking of you — because all I can feel is my sweet love for you.”
“Wasting My Time” segues into the grooving, up-tempo rocker “Total Eclipse,” with frantic backing and frenzied vocals that support the panic behind its nuclear holocaust-themed lyrics. From its final, bomb-like drum blast comes an eerie synth-orchestra soundscape performed by Jon Cobert and composed by Man Parrish entitled “Nomi Chant.” It serves as an introduction to the album’s final track, Nomi’s reading of Saint-Saens’ aria “Samson and Delilah.” The performance, recorded live at Merlyn’s in Madison, Wisconsin, is the perfect finale to Nomi’s first artistic statement. Following the takes on ’60s classics and opera, the disco originals, and the synthy interludes, “Samson and Delilah” demonstrates the magnificent purity of Nomi’s unique voice in a straightforward, classical context. Here, he embodies all the anguish of the original and delivers a masterful version that’s somehow otherworldly.
It’s that mystifying depth of beauty that permeates Klaus Nomi from start to finish. Though his look and his character were sometimes ridiculed, there’s an undeniable mastery in his vocal that shone through from the outset of his career. While some of his contemporaries in the New Wave vaudeville scene cultivated comedic characters that were intentionally ironic and “outsider,” Nomi’s act – for all its outlandish visuals – was beautiful, uncompromising, and convincing to even the edgiest, most cynical audience member.
While the full effect of Klaus Nomi’s work was best rendered in a live performance, his debut album gives listeners the opportunity to experience his talents in a different way. On wax, Nomi’s gripping vocals and the dependable work of his musical collaborators take the starring role. Klaus Nomi is a landmark in so-called outsider music, one that hasn’t seen a vinyl release since 1982. Real Gone Music’s reissue gives vinyl enthusiasts an opportunity to rediscover Nomi’s extraordinary musical skills, which were truly alien to anything else released at the time. Real Gone has elected to replicate the original inner sleeve of the Klaus Nomi album, so while no details were given about the vinyl cutting process for the reissue, the copy we auditioned had no noticeable production flaws and was an immersive listening experience that properly showed off the dynamics of the material. Add to it the handsome packaging and clever cabaret smoke color vinyl, and Real Gone Music’s reissue of Klaus Nomi proves itself to be a fitting tribute to the magnificent first album by one of music’s unsung singular talents.
The color vinyl reissue of Klaus Nomi is still available in limited quantities, with only 1,000 copies pressed. You can secure your copy with the following links: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada.