Nothing is ever all that simple with Laibach. Providing a somewhat…different spin on popular music and culture for many years now, it did appear back in 2003 upon the release of WAT that they had perhaps tired of this, and released what was on face value a disarmingly straight industrial album. It spawned one massive single (the ubiquitous Tanz Mit Laibach, their hat-tip to DAF) and it did appear that many people missed the political message that pervaded the album.
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And perhaps this is why they have retreated back to the concept album, to shed some of the “fairweather” fans. Or perhaps they felt that this was the time to do this. And what is this? Simply put, it is Laibach’s interpretations of fourteen national anthems.
Interpretation is definitely the word here. Some of the anthems have been twisted out of shape, others left as they are, but with the addition of the band’s own commentary.
First up is Germania, a rather understated track, that in amongst the anthem wind lyrics about the rebirth of a nation following World War II. Both America and Anglia are notable as very strong tracks here, but is that because I am so familiar with the respective anthems? Both are deconstructions of each country’s worldview (America: How blind can you get/for your country – right or wrong/America – the melting pot!‘ and Anglia: ‘So, you still believe you are ruling the world‘) and work in some style.
Even better, though, is Rossiya, with it’s unexpected children’s chorus (the only complaint being that it is far too short!), and France (again riddled with disdain for the current regime there, urging them to ‘listen…to the sound on the streets‘), with a heavy marching beat and piano refrain. Italia remains elusive to start with, due to the first half being entirely in Italian (somewhat unusual on this album – most of the additional lyrics are in English), but all told is one of the less interesting tracks here. The arrangement is somewhat thin, at least until the march kicks in late on. España is another very strong track, with a rousing backing and the odd – but really rather effective – use of a football crowd cheering!
Yisra’el is something of an unexpected one – especially the sympathetic lyrics, or at least that is how they read. But then, aren’t most anthems glorifying their home nation, with the ignorance of all others? Türkiye is possibly the closest here, in feel, to a Laibach song rather than an adaptation of something else, which makes it immediately stand out, and Zhonghuá is not far behind. It is striking though, for the lyrics, more than anything – a reminder that sometimes the nation subsumes the individual – and also for the quite gorgeous “chorus” of the anthem itself.
Nippon – by the rest of the album’s standards, very, very long – is also rather different by being vocal and piano based, with little else there – and perhaps the one song that deviates the least from the source. Slovania appears to be a somewhat heartfelt paean to their homeland, while Vaticanae – an odd choice – is almost purely a choral piece, making you wonder whether they actually did anything with the source material at all.
The final track isn’t a real national anthem at all – it is an anthem for the “state” of NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) – although it sounds like a real anthem, of course…
It is difficult to know what to make of this. Some of it is very, very clever indeed – and very good, too – but some of it, particularly the politics, are slightly blunt in their approach. Even the booklet forces this home, with various quotes about England and English being “the dominant force”. In all, it is a fascinating album, whose underlying message, for once, is difficult to ignore. And for that at least Laibach must be commended – music with a message that people might take note of is becoming rarer by the week.