RPWL had intended to mark the 20th anniversary of their debut album God Has Failed with a tour in 2020, but we all know why that was not possible. Instead, this renowned German progressive rock band decided to re-record the album in a live session and are releasing it as God has Failed: Live & Personal. Yet again they demonstrate what a classy and high quality live act they are with an impeccably performed and produced album.
One question we could ask ourselves is, ‘Did the world need another RPWL live album?’ as this is at least their ninth live release in just over 20 years, many of which have similar setlists. In that context I will admit to approaching this album with some trepidation, having had previous reservations about the multitude of live releases. However, this was not really a ‘gig’ recording – more of a ‘live’ studio performance of a whole album, much of which has not featured regularly on their live albums, so it does not really feel like just another live album. It would be interesting to see what the passage of twenty years has affected this music and how it is presented.
What struck me is the obvious maturity and assurance that the band now bring to this early material. Their original album was a confident debut 20-plus years ago, but it did show some signs of their relative inexperience. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive debut. The intensely personal nature of the songs, borne out of the grief and reflections of singer Yogi Lang after the loss of his father in the period leading up to the album, is clear. Roll forward 20 or so years and this performance takes those raw personal perspectives and presents them with added sensitivity and subtlety. As ever, RPWL stick fairly closely to the template of their original songs in these live renditions, but there are some appreciable differences which give this version more crispness, resonance and, at times, delicacy… and let’s face it, a band which has been working successfully for over 20 years will have developed its skill and touch as a performing unit. That shines out in this fine document.
The original album is now out of print, so it does seem valid for the band to revisit an album which many of their later fans may not have or heard. The opening duo of Hole in the Sky pieces will be quite familiar to fans who have never heard God Has Failed as they have been an almost constant feature in performances and live albums ever since… and there’s a reason for that – it’s a quality, towering song full of a mixture of melancholy and drama. The Pink Floyd comparisons are unavoidable, particularly when one of the lines states, “I set the controls for the Heart of the Sun” – you’re never too far away from a Floyd reference with these guys. A memorable peculiarity is the quotes from James Cameron’s 1986 movie Aliens. On the surface that may seem a strange film to reference, but once one understands that this song and album are suffused with the memories and grief of lyricist Yogi Lang, it makes more sense.
How? Well, whilst on the surface Aliens is basically ‘Vietnam in Space’ with Space Marines fighting against hordes of seemingly indomitable enemies, a major subtext of the movie is ‘parenthood’. Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, becomes the surrogate mother of the young girl Newt, and the film is mainly about her link to the girl and her fight to save her. In the ensuing confrontation she meets another ‘Mother’… but I digress!!! In Hole in the Sky, Yogi Lang states “I’ll fly to the grievous light”, and whilst it is not a concept album it is clear that his sense of grief is threaded through much of the album.
The Floyd influences take a backward step on Who Do You Think We Are as classic Beatles-esque melodies and vocal harmonies shine through. The Aliens dialogue bleeds through again, and then Kalle Wallner launches a fluid guitar solo. Wait Five Years features some lovely female opening vocals from Bine Heller and Caroline Brunken, which is a much more delicate than the opening of the original album. There are some interesting differences from the original album generally, but they tend to be rather subtle and restrained – the band staying fairly faithful to the original. It’s a celebration of God Has Failed, not a re-imagining.
The emotional centre of the album commences with the crystalline acoustic and piano instrumental Leaving, part one of What I Need. Part two builds a beautiful, melancholic atmosphere and seems to be recalling someone watching over a parent in their last hours. There is a bittersweet quality to the music and words. The wistful synth line over an acoustic guitar (which is far more pronounced than on the original) is quite heart-breaking. The tempo increases as Yogi Lang cries out:
Kale Wallner ripples out a flowing guitar line to echo this cry of anguish. It’s a highlight of the whole album.
Next we come to the elephant in the room – Pink Floyd.
You simply cannot escape it when it comes to RPWL. The press release even mentions it straightaway, to get it out of the way. It seems they just acknowledge that those comparisons are inescapable, and embrace it now. (The band even include two Pink Floyd live covers to fill out the vinyl version of this album!)
The shadow of Floyd cannot be ignored when you hear a song like In Your Dreams. This live version differs from the original studio version with an additional extended and eerie synth intro which transitions into a familiar stark, distorted guitar line… and then an uncannily Floyd-like ‘chug’ rhythm, so beloved of the latter Gilmour era, kicks in, and with that classic sinuous guitar line over the top there is an unmistakable similarity to Floyd’s Sorrow from 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
However, do you know what? I didn’t mind!
Why? Because the song develops a life of its own after a more optimistic mid-section with backing vocals from the ‘Gilmour Girls’, as the band mischievously call them. Then the song seems to ascend through the clouds into bright blue skies. The closing half is imbued with a positivity, steeped in images of meeting again and reconciliation. Yogi acclaims in a celebratory voice:
Now we’re together, don’t go away!”
Marc Turiaux on drums with Frank Thumbach on bass impressively add the rhythmic drive, serving as the canvas upon which Kalle Wallner can spray arcs of sweetly soaring electric guitar. It’s hard not to be swept along by the glory of this piece… probably enough to help you forget that the first section was SO Pink Floyd it’s a wonder their solicitors weren’t in contact!
RPWL return to the Beatles rock/pop style for It’s Alright, which builds and builds with great organ work from Markus Jehle and impassioned vocals from Lang, and is the most ‘live’ sounding song on the album with a show-stopping ending. In contrast, the more piano-led Crazy Lane is a gentle rock ballad with echoes of Elton John. In truth, some of the latter half of the album is rather too similar to some of the first half in my view. Whilst the band perform with their usual aplomb, particularly in the sometimes stratospheric Fool, these are songs which do not have quite the same distinctiveness as the early part. They are far from poor songs, but it must be remembered this was their first album and they were yet to develop their own identity. The reprise of Hole in the Sky is precisely that, and rubber stamps their Floydian leanings. Elsewhere other influences also become apparent with the steepling guitars during Spring of Freedom. References to “Leaves of green” and “When mountains come out of the sky” are obvious homages to Yes, but also includes an impressive bass performance from Thumbach as Wallner swoops and glides on guitar.
The emotional finale to the album with Farewell and God Has Failed connects to the earlier themes of saying goodbye, loss and the transience of life. This version of Farewell is more subtle and polished than the original, showing the growth of the band. The whole of this album is superbly produced with a crisp, clear sound. God Has Failed was always a controversial title but may have acted against them at the time (possibly designed by a young band wanting to attract attention?). The title may have suggested this as a depressing, bleak, nihilistic and anti-clerical album – it’s nothing of the sort. The final title track starts as a gentle acoustic guitar and vocal track and is clearly an elegy by Lang for the loss of his father. Understandably, in a time of loss it can feel like God (if one believes God exists) has abandoned you and taken your loved one. This comes across in this heart-felt and touching song. RPWL have embellished the original version here with subtle but warm organ, and a languid bluesy guitar section with a lovely tone backed by the female harmony vocals. It’s a lovely ending to the album and gives this emotional release some sense of closure.
If you already have this music in its original incarnation it is debatable whether it is worth investing in this new version – there are subtle differences which enhance it, but it is largely very close to the original. What is clear is that the quality of performance has improved over the years and this is undoubtedly a superior and more resonant version of God Has Failed. If you do not have the original then the question of whether this is worth getting is very much clearer to answer. I would certainly recommend investing in hearing this music in this enhanced presentation.
RPWL skilfully perform engaging songs of loss and farewell with remarkable touch and feeling. Yet strangely, at the end of an album which is imbued with such loss and melancholy, there is also a sense of positivity and reconciliation, and those aren’t bad feelings to be in touch with right now, are they?
01. Hole In The Sky (Part 1: Fly) (5:17)
02. Hole In The Sky (Part 2: Crawl To You) (3:04)
03. Who Do You Think We Are (4:16)
04. Wait Five Years (2:59)
05. What I Need (Part 1: Leaving) (1:37)
06. What I Need (Part 1: What I Need) (5:41)
07. In Your Dreams (8:33)
08. It’s Alright (7:00)
09. Crazy Lane (4:04)
10. Fool (5:33)
11. Hole In The Sky (Part 3: The Promise) (3:04)
12. Spring Freedom (5:40)
13. Farewell (5:53)
14. God Has Failed (3:26)
Total Time – 66:07
[NB: 2-LP vinyl version includes two extra Pink Floyd live covers recorded in 2000: Cymbaline and Fat Old Sun]
Yogi Lang – Vocals, Keyboards
Kalle Wallner – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Markus Jehle – Keyboards
Marc Turiaux – Drums
Frank Thumbach – Bass
Bine Heller – Vocals
Caroline Brunken – Vocals
Record Label: Gentle Art Of Music | Soulfood
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 30th April 2021
• God has Failed (2000)
• Trying to Kiss the Sun (2002)
• Stock (2003)
• World Through My Eyes (2005)
• Start the Fire (Live) (2005)
• The RPWL Experience (2009)
• The RPWL Live Experience (2009)
• Nine (Live) (2009)
• The Gentle Art of Music (2010)
• Beyond Man and Time (2012)
• A Show Beyond Man and Time (2013)
• Wanted (2014)
• RPWL Plays Pink Floyd (2015)
• RPWL Plays Pink Floyd – The Man and The Journey (2016)
• A New Dawn (Live) (2017)
• Tales from Outer Space (2019)
• Live from Outer Space (2019)
• God has Failed – Live and Personal (2021)