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NENA (Buy CDs by this artist)
Nena (Ger. CBS) 1983
? (Fragezeichen) (Ger. CBS) 1984
99 Luftballoons (Epic) 1985
It's All in the Game (Epic) 1985
STRIPES
The Stripes (Ger. CBS) 1980

German pop sensation Nena hit it big internationally in 1984 with the nuclear protest of "99 Luftballons." Boasting the attractive voice of Gabriela "Nena" Kerner and a jolly modern sound, the Berlin group's catchy songs tend towards bubblegum simplicity, but are undeniably engaging, whether sung in English or German. Nena, the band's monolingual homeland debut, contains "99 Luftballons" as well as the equally wonderful "Nur Getr„umt" and "Leuchtturm" ("Lighthouse"), all melodic and bouncy hits that mix rock strength with pure pop arrangements. However, the record is inconsistent, and has a lot of draggy songs that don't make any lasting impression.

While it still presents a few sprightly pop delights ("Rette Mich," the Abba-esque "Kss Mich Wach"), Nena's second album (whose parenthetical title means, reasonably enough, Question Mark) moves the band closer to universal easy-listening mush and sub-Blondie demi-disco. (David Sanborn blows some treacly sax on two songs; the pseudo-Africanisms of "Das Land der Elefanten" make Toto's efforts in this department seem almost credible.)

The band's first Anglo-American release, 99 Luftballons, was stitched together half-and-half from the two German LPs. Nena provided "99 Red Balloons" (as well as the German-language original), "Leuchtturm," "Kino" (a song about the movies) and "Nur Getr„umt," smoothly converted into "Just a Dream." The second album contributed "Rette Mich," "? (Fragezeichen)," "Das Land der Elefanten," "Unerkannt Durchs M„rchenland," "Ich H„ng' an Dir" and "Lass Mich Dein Pirat Sein," the last two translated into English as "Hangin' on You" and "Let Me Be Your Pirate."

Although no serious stylistic changes were made in the interim, It's All in the Game (sung entirely in English, translated by Canada's Lisa Dalbello, who also does backing vocals on the record) is fairly irrelevant, lacking any great songs that would enliven this forgettable collection. Sanborn makes another guest appearance; the record's general resemblance to mid-period Abba — five years after the fact — may explain why it was Nena's last. (Not for nothing is the final song is entitled "Auf Wiedersehen.")

Kerner's pre-Nena band, Stripes, played post-Blondie rock of the most rudimentary variety. The Stripes tells virtually the same joke thirteen times with only minor variations — notwithstanding the two American-written tunes, one by Hall and Oates, no less.

[Ira Robbins/Jim Green]