Clueso is back with Handgepäck – Two years ago, East-German singer and songwriter Clueso parted with the old and embraced the new by releasing his groundbreaking album Neuanfang. Now, he hands us a treasure trove which has been long in the making.
With his acoustic album Handgepäck (hand luggage), Clueso brings truth to the surface in small, neat packages. It is a mature album for which the experienced musician and talented guitarist has captured significant moments and emotions from his travels. Collected over the past seven years, he has framed them in a palette of minimalist yet versatile pieces, much like Polaroids from the road.
In one of the songs from Neuanfang from two years ago, Clueso sings about the process of sieving memories (Erinnerungen). Done with the process, he now presents to us the 18 little nuggets that he found along the way.
Asked about the two years in between his last album and Handgepäck, he responds: “I have always been planning to release an acoustic album and even though the recording process was my own, I hope that some members from both the old and the new band will join me for the live performances.” For the album, Clueso has brought every song to life almost entirely all by himself and consequently, the listener is immediately drawn into a very personal, authentic sphere on first listen.
Pillars of the structure
Lyrics in general become a big issue with acoustic recordings, especially when these are done completely ‘old school’, with a maximum of four tracks. The reflective single Du und Ich (You and I) forms one of two pillars for the album. The song is all about perception and projection − not necessarily between lovers, but in this case on coming home from a tour and meeting the bus driver’s eye in the rear mirror. ‘What do you and I know about his life anyway?’, Clueso asks. ‘And come to think of it, what does he know about mine?’ Likewise, he wonders about his female neighbour. The atmosphere of Du und Ich reminds the listener of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and drums up a pensive melancholy on coming home and finding everything as it was, yet different at the same time. The second album pillar, Vier Jahreszeiten an einem Tag (Four seasons in one day), a Crowded House cover, addresses the familiar Clueso theme of accepting constant change; which sometimes may result in perceiving single days as entire years.
Travel sounds and the miracle of communication
Naturally, Handgepäck features many ‘on the road’ sounds. Country and blues riffs pop up in brief sequences as well as some Dixie music, and even an accordion for Paris, a song recalling a post-tour trip on the eve of a relationship.
Communication, both on the micro- and the macro level is a big part of this travelling-themed album, as is the odd “awesome moment”, captured in a song. But what makes authentic communication for Clueso? “You have to accept the in-between and the gaps as well as the bridges,” he says, “and if you really want to, you will always find a common level on which to communicate. For example, I remember meeting this really nice old man on a plane who wouldn’t stop talking to me in a language I didn’t recognise. However, in the end, we communicated by watching this western together, sharing a headset. That was our way of bonding and it worked! Also, when I am on stage with my buddies and the air is filled with sound, I need to be able to communicate through gestures only.” You don’t always need words to find common ground.
The tramp and the desert
While the guitar intro Aufbruch (Departure) immediately takes the listener by the hand using no words at all, the song Wüste (Desert), actually “conceived” standing on the balcony of a friend’s place in the desert, features syllables only. “It came into my head just as ‘da, da, da’ – so why should I try and explain anything with additional words?” says Clueso. And just like that, the song literally goes “da,da,da”, sung in a dreamy voice accompanied by guitar: a captured moment in time. Here, as in Landstreicher (Tramp), the sliding steel guitar dips more than just a toe into the desert sand. And when Clueso comes home to his little town of Erfurt, he has his own granddad for comfort, who “has a voice just like Johnny Cash” and offers real life wisdom: “He says, no matter where you stay or go physically, you will never feel like having fully arrived. You will always want to try out new and different things. In a way, I find that to be a reassuring thought.”
Eternity meets moment
As much as life itself is a journey, it is the moment which can literally save us. For the 1974 Puhdys cover Wenn ein Mensch lebt (When a Person Lives), Clueso put some new chords to the haunting and beautiful lyrics which embrace a 1-2-1 structure: “Almost like a mantra,” he notes. Indeed, the lines “My girlfriend is beautiful, and I lay down in her shadow” entail a spiritual quality. According to the Buddhist notion that the person passing away shows the remaining ones a glimpse of the light to come; lying down in their shadow makes complete sense. “I found much inspiration in those lyrics,” says Clueso, “and it also brought up the idea of not wanting to miss out on moments which are being handed to us.” One such moment is captured in Vor dem Abflug (Before Departure), describing how queuing at the airport is not only “already healing the wanderlust”, but also offers an in-between moment for self-reflection and alone time. “Mostly, you look around and see bored faces,” Clueso states, “but effectively, the here and now is suddenly emphasised and up for grabs.” Seizing the moment is a major part of travelling. And the little bumps, inconsistencies and irregularities are just part of the game: “That’s why you need to travel light,” he smiles, “with Handgepäck, as it were.”
I have spoken to Clueso for the second time since Neuanfang. And for all the travelling and touring, I experience him as a most grounded person. Asked about where his home is, the answer shoots straight out: Erfurt. The East-German town has allowed him his jumpstart during the post-wall era and he always comes back. Even though songs like Waldrandlichter and Steine suggest blockages which had to be overcome both initially and on the way, his town and friends provide the structure that he needs and cherishes. “When I walk down the street giving a wave to people I’ve known forever, I feel that I live in the right place.” Turns out that travelling light can also make it easier to return. And maybe, that is exactly what the bus driver thinks, looking at him in the rear mirror: ‘Ah, that must be Clueso coming home’.
TEXT: CORNELIA BRELOWSKI I PHOTO: CHRISTOPH KÖSTLIN