“I’m a pervert, I like watching,” Terri Nunn says, laughing, succinctly explaining Voyeur, the title of Berlin’s first album of new material in sixteen years. “There’s a song that was a bonus track on the live record [Berlin Live: Sacred and Profane] called ‘X Girl’ that had a line, “I’m the one standing on the sidelines/I’m the voyeur on your side,’ and that line really stuck with me.”
With that, Nunn and Berlin are back, continuing what they started twenty years ago with the breakout singles “Sex (I’m A…)” and “Metro,” from the gold-selling debut EP Pleasure Victim. They continued with their first full-length release Love Life (featuring “No More Words”) in 1984, and then scored a Number One hit with “Take My Breath Away” from their second album, 1986’s Count Three and Pray. The song was also featured on the soundtrack to Top Gun.
The Los Angeles synth-pop trio was the West Coast’s answer to the girl-driven, New Wave of Blondie, and, from the beginning, Berlin revolved around Nunn’s vocal strengths and sex appeal. They still do.
“There’s a lot of sex,” Nunn says of the record’s lyrical themes. “It would be closer to ‘Sex (I’m A…)’ ’cause it was a sexual song and a dance song, and there’s a lot of that on this record. It’s more layered than what we did before – there’s more to play with.”
The ability to build on the dance sensibilities the band had early on was a main reason why Nunn and company – Dallan Baumgarten, guitar; Mitchell Sigman, keyboards; Chris Olivas, drums; Linda Dalziel, harmony vocals – started up again. “We didn’t even know what to do with Berlin, and we broke up because of that,” Nunn says. “A lot of bands that came out in the Nineties – like Garbage and the Sneaker Pimps and Nine Inch Nails, who took electronic music to a completely different area – excited me as to what Berlin could do now.”
For Voyeur, Nunn collaborated with the principal of one of those Nineties bands, the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Nunn and Corgan co-wrote the song “Sacred and Profane,” which also happens to be the name of a Pumpkins song and their farewell tour. “I played him three songs we were working on,” Nunn says, “and he said, ‘Wow, that’s really good. I could do something with that.’ And it happened to be called ‘Sacred and Profane.’ The tune was inspired by Nunn’s first encounter with INXS’s Michael Hutchence as an audience member at the band’s first London gig. “He came out on stage and within five minutes I was a puddle on the floor,” she says of the late singer.
“Berlin’s doing a lot more dance music too, ’cause we’re great at it, so there’s lots of dance songs and there’s ballads and there’s dark stuff,” Nunn continues. But combining the dance and pop elements that Berlin began with are among Nunn’s new goals with the reincarnated band. “Massive Attack, Moby – that’s the kind of stuff that really excited me. But what’s missing are the lyrics. A story, chorus… both of those people could really use me,” she says, laughing.
Some of Nunn’s goals remain the same: “Keeping women and women’s sexuality out there on the front lines, and it’s not that easy. Here we are again: a lot of balls-to-the-wall, testosterone-guy, fifteen-year-old music. It’s great, but what about us? We like to get off, we like that too and we like pounding, sexy music. So I want to do that, and I want to keep doing that.