Following the domestic success of their 1984 album "Forever Young" and the international success of "Big In Japan", nobody could accuse German electro-pop band Alphaville of simply rehashing the same formula for album no. 2. "Afternoons in Utopia" is a skyscraping, ambitious pop record which aims to be epic and, for the most part, succeeds magnificently.
Putting aside the New Age babble of the lyrics, this album delivers pop anthem after pop anthem. On Side 2 (produced by Pete Walsh, who produced another towering landmark 80s album, Simple Minds' "New Gold Dream") the band achieve some kind of pop heaven, with the faultless sequencing of "20th Century" going into "The Voyager", "Carol Masters" and then Erasure-ish single "Universal Daddy". Except this band were making music long before Vince Clark formed Erasure.
Just occasionally I must confess to finding the bombast and pomp a little overpowering (oddly enough on the first tracks of the album proper, after the teaser "IAO" intro: "Fantastic Dream" and "Jerusalem" are SO up, and so triumphant! They're sometimes like a vanilla latte with 5 sugars in it - a little too much of a good thing.
But I haven't even mentioned the poignant and wonderful "Lassie Come Home" - 7 minutes of perfect melancholia that neatly takes the cute doggie film title and applies it to lost (human) love, all sung over warm, shifting synth chords that instantly transport me back to the early- to mid-eighties every time I hear them.
So, don't get me wrong, this is a brilliant album and one of the classics of the eighties - just eclipsed for me by the preceding "Forever Young" and its successor, "The Breathtaking Blue".
Mastering on this original 80s CD is OK: fairly quiet (when I analysed a few tracks they peaked at -2.5dB) but nice and clear, with no 'trendy' dynamic range compression nonsense applied. Try the vinyl version for additional 'Lassie' analogue warmth!