ERIC ANDERSEN – Silent Angel: Fire and Ashes of Heinrich Böll (Meyer Records no. 221)

Since The Cologne Concert LP in 2011, Eric Andersen’s output on the Meyer label has been prolific to say the least; and only months since releasing an album dedicated to the works of Lord Byron, here he is again with Silent Angel: Fire and Ashes of Heinrich Böll. As the title suggests, this recording focusses on the life and work of Böll; a Nobel Prize winning writer and ardent anti-fascist, who as a German soldier, deserted the army, was wounded and eventually captured by Americans and sent to a Prisoner of War camp. After the War, he dedicated his life to writing about his wartime and post-War experiences. While Andersen’s works take inspiration from Böll’s literature, these songs also serve as a warning, as he parallels the dangers of Nazi Germany to the modern landscape.

Bookended with a short, light-hearted German ditty about the River Rhine, the recording digs deep, and does so very quickly. ‘Silent Angel’ opens the Andersen-sung portion of the album; based on Böll’s first novel, as he returns to his blitzed and decimated hometown and through the dust and rubble thinks he sees a person, only to find it is an angel made of marble. It is as eerie as it is melodic, but in terms of lyrical narrative for the songs on the record, it merely scrapes the surface. The sarcastic ‘Thank You Dearest Leader’, is the rockiest song on the album and is a giant middle finger to Adolf Hitler, for his misguided evils and the domino effect they had on the world in the years to come…or as Andersen puts it, his own “personal sardonic way to express ‘appreciation’ for (Hitler’s) fucking up and…ruining a beautiful country like Germany and others round her.

‘Face of a Clown’ is a slow, sad narrative of “an artist and a clown” named Schneer, who rejects his wealthy family’s Nazi lifestyle, but soon has his heart broken and has no money, and after encountering a series of misfortunes, becomes a busker in a train station. Perhaps the piece on the record which is closest to the bone however, is ‘Silence’; a five minute ballad on the literal silence which often engulfed German households when the subject of what happened to the Jews during the War came up. It begins: “Silence – from the cellar down the halls/ Silence – its running down the walls/ Silence – never sorry when it calls/Doesn’t disappear at all/ It just rolls up like a ball/Pretending to be small/ And then buries you in a fog…”

Eric has been putting out records for over 50 years, and as far as I’m concerned, he is as good as anyone else to come out of the folk revival. While it is worth applauding the fact that he is still writing, recording and releasing new material, what is even more commendable is that instead of just rehashing, reminiscing or releasing for the sake of a new record, in 2018, Eric Andersen still has something very important to say.

Christopher James Sheridan

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