Here's Falco: From Vienna With Whimsy

April 06, 1986|ROBERT HILBURN

VIENNA — Five photographers and a TV crew steadied their cameras as they waited in the hospital lobby for the elevator door to open. But it was a false alarm.

Instead of pop star Falco stepping out with his new baby in his arms, it was just a cleaning man.

"He's beginning to act like all the other pop stars . . . showing up late," muttered one of the photographers. "I understand he kept a TV crew waiting three hours yesterday."

If so, Falco can afford to keep the local crews waiting. His success with the playful "Rock Me Amadeus" makes him the biggest international pop star from Austria since . . . well . . . ever .

When Falco, his longtime companion Isabella Vitkovic, and their daughter Katherine finally appeared, the photographers put aside their pique. They smiled almost as broadly as Falco did as the hometown hero mugged with the baby.

As parents and baby left the building, the press all but applauded.

Falco, 29, charmed those photographers as easily as he is charming pop fans.

Here's a guy who knows what he wants and how to get it.

In a phone interview a week before I met him here, Falco spent a good five minutes explaining why Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would have been a punk rocker if he were alive today--which is exactly the message of "Rock Me Amadeus," which has been the No. 1 single in the United States for three weeks.

But Falco, wearing exercise pants and a casual jacket instead of the tuxedo he wears on the cover of his new album, just smiled when the theory was mentioned.

"Who knows what Mozart would have been today?" he said good-naturedly.

"I just tell the media that he would have been a punk because it makes for . . . how do you say . . . a good angle. It gives them something to work with.

"I think it is important for pop artists to make an impression . . . in their music and in their (dealings with) the media. I never want to be one of those people where, when you hear his name, someone just says, 'Oh, him, I don't know (how I feel about him). . . .' "

Falco's third album, "Falco 3," isn't being greeted with indifference. A Rolling Stone magazine reviewer hated it.

Among the choice zingers: "Falco's third album is convincing only as an argument for toughening this country's import-export laws. . . . Even if you could correct half of what's bad about the record . . . (it) would still be wretched."

That review alone would make me want to check out the record. Anyone who can make a critic that angry must have something going for him. And sure enough, Falco has plenty going for him in his A&M album, which has jumped into the Top 10 on the Billboard magazine sales list.

Be warned: We're not dealing here with a deeply rooted response to the social issues raised by "Born in the U.S.A." Hans Foelzel (who took the professional name Falco from the first name of a European skier) is mostly having fun with the British and American pop music traditions that he has long enjoyed. The cartoonish "Rock Me Amadeus" is a lively, junk-food blend of everything you'd find in a week's monitoring of Top 40 radio: disco strings, synth drums, hip-hop, rap, a trace of heavy metal.

That same freewheeling spirit moves through the rest of the album. "America," with its opening Dylan-cum-Springsteen harmonica notes, is a sarcastic account of American tourists in Vienna, while "Munich Girls" is a wonderfully witty look at the evolution of a pop sound--in this case the street-wise Lou Reed approach.

On the track, Falco moves vocally from Reed's own deadpan style to the more melodic approach of David Bowie to the unabashed commercial instincts of the Cars. It only adds to the track's appeal that Falco wrote new words to one of the Cars' own songs, "Looking for Love."

"Macho Macho" is a playful extension of Bowie's "Rebel, Rebel," while the remake of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is done in the acoustic country-blues style of the early Rolling Stones.

There is a serious side to Falco. "Any Kind of Land" reflects on the overpowering American influence around the world:

Got tomorrow land

You got a madhouse land

You got any, any, any kind of land.

Like countless teen-agers, Falco saw rock as a way to a freer life style--and his working-class parents were as alarmed as parents everywhere when he dropped out of high school to join a band.

After grueling years with local lounge and show bands, Falco, who is aided in this video age by his boyish good looks, embarked on a solo career, scoring a quick success in 1980 with "Ganz Wien." The record was a cult favorite around this city, even though radio stations refused to play it because of the line, "All Vienna is on heroin today."

About that record, Falco said: "There was a very hard-core (drug) scene in Vienna that had a lot to do with the (environment) here. Vienna was once the center of Europe, and it's depressing to many people to see all these imperial buildings and realize that (the city's glory) is no more.

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