You can’t accuse Nina Hagen, regarded as the godmother of German punk – and the soundtrack to former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s departure from power – of being predictable or repetitive. Shadrack, the opening to her latest album Unity, is a Bible story half-sung over a synth-funk meets hip-hop beat, and sets the tone for an album that is wildly eclectic to the point of chaos. Moving from dub to funk and rock to folk, with covers of Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow, Unity sounds as if records have been randomly pulled from a vast collection and assembled as one.
Funkadelic’s George Clinton appears in a deep dub track that he and Hagen wrote in response to the death of George Floyd, affirming that “positive vibrations surround the world’s nations”, while 16 Tons is a take on the Merle Travis song about the plight of Kentucky miners. “Muscle and blood and skin and bones,” Hagen sings over a chugging country-funk groove in a deep, raspy growl that recalls Tom Waits. Crow’s Redemption Day, also covered by Johnny Cash, limps along as an uninspired mid-tempo rock number and Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind – sung in German – doesn’t do anything interesting enough with the classic to warrant yet another rendition.
Despite the lack of sonic cohesion or direction, the record feels loosely tied together through a focus on notions of unity and unashamed proclamations of earnestness during times of disarray. The result – if you can survive all the dizzying pinballing between styles – feels, however, less like a fierce political punch than a familiar yet slightly awkward embrace.