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Kraftwerk

Man, Robert Palmer sure can play some neato synthesizer!

Introduction
Tone Float (as Organisation)
Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk 2
Ralf and Florian
Autobahn
Radio-Activity
Trans-Europe Express
The Man-Machine
Computer World
Electric Cafe
 

The Lineup Card (1970-1986)
Florian Schneider (Drums, Keyboards, Woodwinds)
Ralf Hutter (Drums, Keyboards, Vocals)
Karl Bartos (Percussion) after 1975
Wolfgang Flur (Percussion) after 1974

Kraftwerk sure didn't invent the synthesizer (that was Pete Townshend) and sure didn't invent electronic music (that was John Fogerty) and sure didn't popularize it (that was Ike and Tina Turner) but they did invent the idea of the creepy plastic German. Oh wait, that's all wrong. John Cale invented the creepy plastic German even though he's actually Welsh. But just look at that Kray-zee cover of Vintage Violence! That's a creepy German behind that awful(ly sexual, if you're weird) mask, But then Kraftwerk came along and did the same thing on their album covers, and then that was stolen by Devo, who couldn't actually afford to have their hair molded in plastic like a Ken doll, so they just put painted flower pots on their heads and stayed inside until they got rickets they were so pale. And then the English started taking too many tabs of Ecstasy and the cops busted it and Amp came on and got cancelled and that's the history of electronic music. Thank you and have a safe drive home. I'm here all week.

No, Kraftwerk didn't do much other than become the poster children of all things Yurrpean and cold and non-punk avant garde while putting out a string of cold yet enjoyable synthesizer albums in the late 70's that became a fetish for burgeoning indies and a slightly off-putting novelty for radio programmers. Listen to this! It's a synthesizer! It's music made by computers! Isn't that odd? Next up, Sweaty Teddy Nugent and Boston! And stay tuned to win two free tickets to the Marshall Tucker Band concert next weekend!

Kraftwerk was (and continues to be) successful precisely for the reason that they weren't ever exactly overwhelmed with support from their fellow Kraut Rockers (Can, Amon Duul II, Faust, Neu!, and other retards) probably because the albums they released during the heyday of Kraut-y Rock were awful devices that destroyed enemy bunkers at 200 paces and made all the bunnies and butterflies go away. Only when they stopped being 'avant garde' (unlistenable) and started being 'avant garde' (soothing and harmonious) did people begin to catch on and buy these things those non-men were releasing. After 'Autobahn' became a hit it was all over and Kraftwerk was forever burned into the minds of all geeks as The God-Guardians Of Non-Macho Electronic Music. See, other than them, you had hairy fools like Vangelis and wannabe Grateful Deads like Tangerine Dream running the electronic show. It was synthesizer as cock-rock or fuck music or impressionistic painting. Kraftwerk brought electronic music back to the machines, but at the same time injected a sort of meaning into their work that I plum haven't interpreted yet. These four dudes didn't consort with no groupies! They probably didn't even reproduce sexually! It was man as machine-slave, and probably said a whole lot more truth in 1977 than a whole shelf-full of paranoiac sci fi pulp. So there's somthing to these guys, if you can figure it out.

What's tough about Kraftwerk is not the cold part, or the strange part, it's the pretentious long-winded part. They more or less relied on the long-form ambient song (or 'tone poem' for you art history majors. Found a job yet?) to carry their records, even their best ones, and the early releases are rough going. Plus they don't have much of a beat, don't rock, are twoinky, and other sundry flaws I'm sure I'll tell you about later. But still you should hear some, because if four German guys can't tell you a little bit about art and life, then who can? Don't answer that.


Tone Float - RCA 1970 (as Organisation)

Certainly not that much worse than the instrumental sections of Ummagumma or Atom Heart Mother or any of those early-times Pink Floyd soundtrack albums it resembles so much. And to be released on RCA, Elvis' label, to boot! Okay, so it's RCA Britain, which also had David Bowie at the time, but still, the point is made. What's tough to figure out is what exactly the point of Tone Float is. Lots of percussion burbling along for just long enough to let the bongwater stain dry on your fringe jacket then some moody and important-sounding, but ultimately aimless flute over the top. I'm not gonna come up and say this stuff is great by any stretch of the Laffy Taffy, but its no abomination, and as background music while hanging a bead curtain or organizing your incense collection, it's probably just fine. It's just, damn, does the title track need twenty-plus minutes to make a point? Can these guys actually play, or are they just making a bunch of groovy thump 'n' blow because that's all they can do? Well, I asked the exact same questions of Pink Floyd and never got much answer out of them either. Possibly because they're big huge rock stars who don't stoop to reading my lazily written, wildly inaccurate little website. And CERTAINLY wouldn't go to the trouble of answering fundamental questions about projects they completed over 30 years before, and probably don't remember anyway. That's the way the world is, friends and lovers.

Anyway, none of you will ever hear this record anyway, so why should you care besides the fact that Ralf and Florian used to play in this band for one record album nearly thirty three years ago? I have the same MP3 collection as George Starostin, and it's actually a rip (if you can actually call it that, since it's not digital information at all) from some old LP, pops and waffles and all of that included. This probably indicates that it has never been rereleased anywhere on CD, so if you still want to scour around for it, better grab your checkbook and put some comfortable walkin' shoes on, 'cos you're not gonna find it at Virgin Superstore any time soon.

But why exactly would you want to? I agree with the prevailing wind about this record, that it's mostly a load of atonal, astructural, asexual bull nappy that isn't all that much fun to listen to. There's little point, little to latch onto, and it's far below what the other German bands were doing at the same time. Wanking and 'experimentation;, even without guitar solos, is still, 9 times out of 10,  indicative of someone having a lack of songwriting ability and having too much time to indulge themselves. It's sort of funny, anyway, how seriously these guys took themselves. Did they actually think this was going to revolutionize anything? Well take another toke and answer me later, I guess.

Capn's Final Word: Let's just forget this ever happened, follow Ralf and Florian and quit this band. Because, you won't find it, you won't love it, and it doesn't much matter much anyhow.

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Kraftwerk - Phillips 1971

Following Ralf and Florian's departure from Organisation (no doubt for the most usual and tedious reason that Europeans usually leave groups. The band sucks, it has no commercial or artistic legs to stand on, but still some of the people find some obscure point of musical philosophy to wrangle over and someone leaves in a huff. It happened quite a bit, actually. See Tangerine Dream's early history for more variations.) they formed Kraftwerk, hooked up some synthesizers, grabbed a sympathetic producer/engineer named Conny Plank and got down to making some awful synthetic klang klang that bears little resemblance to actual music. Granted, side 1's 'Ruckzuck' is an 8 minute rhythmic sonofabitch, and the only thing on the entire album that might truly pass as interesting. As for the rest, get ready for lots of underinstructed knob twiddling, 'dark industrial undercurrent' that's about as scary as looking at a rusty tin can, and stuff that sounds like it's incidental sounds from a Tarkovsky film. Ever seen Stalker? Much like watching paint dry for four hours, but then it's some pretty interesting fumes coming off that wall. Anyhow. What Can and Amon Duul II had already tried, recorded, rejected, and thrown in the burn bin is what Kraftwerk decides to release as it's debut album. It think that, besides all of its rightful claims to being the first 'non-classical industrial avant garde record', it's also quite a shake worse than Tone Float, and that's really some feat. While that album had some cute free-jazz-hippy-wife-swapping fun vibes around it, this is just merely oppressive. I'm sorta interested in parts of 'Megahertz', but just as it gets any tension going out of all of the flute/screech nonsense, it stops cold. 'Stratovarious' is just no fun at all, and the finale 'Von Himmel Hoch' removes all good memories from your head as it goes about recreating V-2 rocket raids on the southern English shoreline.   But not in any sort of interesting way, just more and more irritating repetition like a kid that's learned how to make a certain new sound and now wants to make it over and over again. Same marchy tempo the kid always gets into also. Horrible, horrible trip to the dentist, Side 2 is. Run.

Capn's Final Word:  Yes, 'Ambient Industrial', but also 'A Big Pain In The Butt'. Ralf and Florian don't even acknowledge it exists any more...need any other recommendations?

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Kraftwerk 2 - Phillips 1972..

More of the shame. The opening 'Kling Klang' starts with the same random percussion as 'Ruckzuck' from Kraftwerk, but then abandons that idea in a flash of stupidity and goes into a sort of fruity-rhythmic piece that almost sounds straight off of the first side of Tone Float, except this is obviously synth-with flute rather than rock-band-with-flute, and what little difference it makes. I've heard it before, now tell me something new. This 'gently bopping' thing is at least kinder than the squawk and poop of Kraftwerk, but it sure doesn't inspre me to do much other than fall asleep and have really boring dreams. George Starostin described it as 'Baba O'Reilly' without the live musicians or singing, and that's about right, I say. It. Goes. Nowhere. I think that's the reason why everyone is so happy to hear Autobahn come aling, because they've firmly committed themselves on that album to the ideas of traveling, journeys, shifting landscapes, and ARRIVING SOMEWHERE! If you were to make a video for the 17 minutes of 'Kling Klang', I would show a golf cart going around in a lazy circle the entire time, with Ralf and Florian in the seats, grinning puckishly. No, wait, no, I spoke too soon. There would be one part where the golf cart runs out of battery power and just sits there. Ralf and Florian look at each other and start to think. Think think think. (Wotta interesting video, everyone!) Then the golf cart starts back up and around the circle we go again, except now Ralf and Florian are looking robotically pensive instead of merely oblivious. Does that sound meaningful to you? Entertaining? Philosophical? Fuck you. No it doesn't, and neither does the song. I want to see Van Halen's 'Hot For Teacher' video, not what I just described. And I sure find more to relate to in there.

The rest? *Sigh* Worse than that if anything. Sadly, horribly uneventful and unprofessional. Some parts might not make you feel like puking on the turntable and thus ruining your long out-of-print (and very expensive) vinyl copy of this 'record album', but I guarantee some will. And you know what? I might be sort of a 'hard rock guy', at least what I've reviewed so far may give you that impression (and it's not totally inaccurate when it gets down to brass tits.) but I've heard my share of industrial music, and my share of industrial music I've liked. But very few artists will actually record four or five out-of-tune guitar notes replayed over and over over some mess and call it a song ('Atem'). It gets so bad that I actually prefer the song where the guitar sounds like it's having some strings changed ('Spule 4') and some four year old scratch a nickel up and down the strings for 5 minutes than some of the other things on here, like 'Harmonica', which again sounds like a child playing with a toy harmonica for the first time. So it's a synthesizer and not a real harmonica, does that mean anything in 2002, when your PHONE does that 10 million times better? I'll say it doesn't. It's all just simply abominable, and I'm going to stop talking about it before I get mad and don't want to hear any more Kraftwerk for the rest of the year.

Capn's Final Word: Unabashed badness.

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Ralf and Florian - Warner 1973.

Still static as all get out, by which I mean, how it starts is exactly how it's going to finish (after a little meandering around that someone might be able to call improvisation this time instead of 'disgusting fucking about' like the first two Kraftwerk records). Just laying off the irritation button helps this album immensely, but more than that, Ralf and Florian decide to incorporate actual melodies of a sort. Difficult, off-putting and slippery melodies, yes, but they still belong to the species melodious. Not melodic like hum-along, but sho nuff like that neato video game soundtrack you've got running on your X-Box or your Playstation 2 or your Commodore 64. And much like a game soundtrack, it gets repetitive, and more than a little boring without all the fireballs and giant lizards spitting fire and cartoon police officers engulfed in fire, leaving little cartoon wives and little cartoon children at home to cry away the lonely nights, the cartoon mama having to get a job as a hooker in Duke Nukem just to make enough credits for the little microbits to be able to eat. But if nothing else, Ralf and Florian come across less like guys who want to jab pencils in your kneecaps and more like what you might think they'd be like from the cover photo. Nice, nerdy, a little dull in conversation (did I mention this is another one of those instrumental only albums? Well now I have.)

Confession time here on the CapnMarvel site. My MP3 has a big ol' smurdge on it right in the middle of where the random white noises start whooshing across 'Ananas Symphonie' about minute 3, and I'm missing data for about a minute following that. So! This grade does not include one minute from about 40% through the 14 minute final track on here that none of you care about anyway, so if that minute happens to be, oh 'Vietnam' by the Minutemen, to name one selection that might fit into that length of screwed up time, then maybe I'd bump the album grade up a notch or three. But since I know the song hasn't even gotten to the interesting part yet (where the synth Hawaiian guitars come in, which is as pretty as a pinkie.) I think the chances of that are pretty low.

So, 6 Soothing Selections from the Sultans of Synth, which not only fail to distract very much, also fail to disappoint. Many of you with fragile psyches may really be able to derive quite a bit of pleasure from these examples of science at it's most bland, but all I do is look down and say 'gee, over already?' and wonder, much like Casper, what the fuck happened here.

Capn's Final Word: Electronic as the anti-dance music, and if you were to have sex to this, your children will be born with Motorhead T-Shirts on as an automatic protective response. 

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Autobahn - Phillips 1974

Deserving of no less than a B+ because of the frequency of how much I really want to play this album, but probably not deserving of much more because I always find my attention waning during the 23 minute car trip that is 'Autobahn', and never remember a damn thing off side 2, which continues Ralf and Florian-style niceity in a most unpromising manner. But there are such artistic leaps and bounds being made on here that my enjoyment is not some foolish keeping with the crowd. If you don't get a vision of traveling down a smooth, slightly curvy highway in a nice luxury car while listening to the title track, either you have no soul or you're a bushman who's never seen a woman's clitoris before. See, if you want development of a long, melodic theme, with twists and turns and shifts (glacial as they may be), then 'Autobahn' works it out for you. There's the four-note anthemic main theme, which heralds the entrance of the 'Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn' ('We'll crush the French beneath out tank treads and let the dogs clean off the gore.', which is then followed by something I can't translate due to the sensitive nature of the themes involved and my complete inability to remember my 10th grade German) main vocal line, which for all intents and purposes fills a sort of Beach Boys role in the song, reminding us that, yes, we're driving, and yes, it's sorta nice to be out of the house. The edgy middle part does a nice job of giving us a mental picture of some of the inner-workings of the engine, then it's back out and looking at the scenery and the ominous traffic whooshes again. It gets inside your head, that repetitive pulse (a beat, yes! There is one!) and gentle shifting, much like, well, dammit, much like a trip on the dang superhighway, if you want the truth. Excellent work, if a tad lengthy. But then, aren't we all?

Side 2 ain't nothing like that. Oh, it's not crappy, and it's probably scores better than the foo foo I've been talking about in previous reviews, but again my brain's unable to differentiate between the mental pictures conjured up by 'Kometenmelodie 1' (my wife, who I miss terribly because we're in the middle of moving across the ocean and she's second, and the baby is waiting with her, naked as a jaybird) and Ralf and Florian (my wife naked and covered in mineral oil)(stop thinking about my wife). Interesting, yes, but I'm sick to death of using that damned word, but in music as cerebral as this, the term 'ass-kicking' just doesn't cut the mustard any longer. It's not really video game music any longer (oh, well, shit...It may be now, what with all those damned 'evil' blood 'n' guts games they've got now. Like Arkanoid.) it's a 'soundscape' of a place you wouldn't want to put your breakfast nook. Just like there might be something a little scary down there on that planet you're flying over, like a leaky old septic tank or an extremely lonely Delta Burke. Hmm. I guess I figured it out. They must've done something right, because I at least got the 'other world' part right. And 'Kometenmelodie 2' has this great rising, boppy, triumphant riff that shows up when you kill Bowser in the castle at the end of level 9. But that's all it has, and that's all it does. And the comets are gone. The next one sounds like something from a bad fantasy movie of 1982 (Beastmaster! The Dark Crystal!) when the bad guy walks in, but the motherfucker takes 6 minutes to get his ass in the damned cave already, and the last song is just flutey crap with noise around it. Allright.

So the main part is here, and ignoring an entire side is still an option in these wonderful days of LP records, so I encourage you to dream along with 'Autobahn' if you, like me, had been driving a car every day of your life since the age of 16, then was somehow not able to drive for just under two years. It's excellent car-replacement therapy. Kudos to Kraftwerk for growing, and improving themselves.

Capn's Final Word: They've made a grownup album enjoyable by grownups everywhere, and now it's time for them to expand their concept to an entire record. Where are you taking us, boys?

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Radio-Activity - Capitol 1975

To Radio Shack?

Strange but I guess it must be so, Radio Activity is Kraftwerk's opus regarding geiger counters and transmitters, or radioactivity and Radio Activity as it were, a paeon to all devices of wave motion and amplification. Dedicated to the RF Engineers in the hiz-ouse!!. As it be, we get Radiohead smershing this record with more of their patented pointless repetitive noise that either climbs heights of beauty and grace and repetition not seen before by modern oscillators or just mucks around in the tangled pile of Erector set parts like it's Kraftwerk 3 or something. Maddeningly inconsistent, yes, especially when placed next to Autobahn which at least did the listener a service by putting it's boring crap in one of two places: either all together at the end of the record, or hidden in the middle of a 23 minute thing that bowls you over with whoosh noises.

So the big arty statement on here is the title track with it's tippy tap opener 'Geiger Counter', bursting through to a Germanic smooth ocean of Mellotron voices (probably NOT made by a mellotron, but what do I look like? The keyboard player from Night Ranger?) which seems to have only the listeners pensive mood as it's goal. 'Radioland' has less going for it, but it's still pretty. Here's the criticism...this stuff is mighty pleasant to hear, but it doesn't progress anywhere. We're back in the old days of milking an idea until the baby goes hungry, then on to the next song whenever a new idea comes along. 'Radioland' is more static synth music to curl up and let your electrodes wink out one by one to...and 'Airwaves' is Kraftwerk's version of Rush's 'Spirit of Radio', except with only triumphant synthesizers, repetitive beats that faintly recall Can, and no marmot singing. If 'Radioland' is music for shutting down, 'Airwaves' is music for a computer to boot by. Especially a nice porn program.

The idea being that Kraftwerk is sorta machine-like themselves, and Autobahn being the joy of human harmonry with everyday machines, Radio Activity is music for machines. If you were to actually be honest with your toaster oven for a second, and ask it what kind of music it would enjoy, it'd answer the second part of Radio Activity (the part after the songs mentioned above), which is a lot of found noises, beeps and blurps, and other such 'non-musical' sounds one would probably not enjoy playing much on a piano. Your toaster oven is boiling over with love for the German vocoder stuff on short interlude stuff like 'the voice of energy', but I'm left scratching my carbon-based processor case and wondering whether it's time to go and dump my memory cache or not. It's not all dumb and useless like they used to enjoy being (the last two pieces are nice, in fact, and you may remember the opening buzz noise of 'Ohm Sweet Ohm' as being from a Chemical Brothers song)(get the play on words there? Boy, Kraftwerk must've been doing some crosswords or something. Ohm, Home, Om? Pretty deep, really, and the music there sounds like the new national anthem of Silicon Valley,) I'm just saying Radio Activity is not on the wavelength of a normal human being, I find it trying and boring most of all, and will probably strike most folks as odd and cold. Is Industrial music being born here? I think maybe 'Music For Our Appliances' fits the bill much better. 

Capn's Final Word: If I'd have been able to write this review in assembly, it would've reached it's audience much more directly. Anyone got a text-to-digital editor, yet? Kraftwerk gets circuitous.

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Trans-Europe Express - Capitol 1977.

The trip continues. After the technological detour of Radio Aktivitat, which sold in platinum numbers to the household appliance section of Sears at the mall, we get a meditation on the fakeness of people and their relationships on Trans Europe Express. Oh, not on the recurring themes of the hit 'Trans Europe Express'/'Metal On Metal' and 'Europe Endless'/'Endless Endless', which proceed to take the disco beat to an idiotic mechanical extreme. Bad group of songs? Not at all! Imagine a stupider, less evocative but more catchy 'Autobahn' with a steady 2 and 4 drumbeat that recalls James Brown, and you've got 'T-EE' (the one with more lyrics and riffs) and 'Metal On Metal' (the one with more klang klang but the same beat), and, well 'EE/EE' is just minimalistic disco, if that appeals to you.

So one to the concept, which is a whopper of a sonofabitch if I may say so myself. It starts off right there on the cover with the four Krafty the Clowns looking like bad mannequin versions of the Final Solution archetype. No extraneous hair (not even a single one out of place!), no more lovable dorks, just these...these drones, stripped of sexuality and aggression and body odor and left to play us this nightmare vision of human vanity. 'Hall Of Mirrors' takes that line from Bruce's 'Dancin' With Myself' ('I look at myself in the mirror...I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face!') and runs with it, telling us we're all alone in front of a mirror, and that we can 'change ourselves' anytime we wish. 'Showroom Dummies' isn't much kinder, but the robotic dance minimalism stuff they've got here on this tune is really something! Kraftwerk really split themselves from the crowd with Autobahn, but with Trans Europe Express they're simply on another planet away from everyone else. Is Depeche Mode imaginable without T-EE? Is KMFDM? Ministry? Is most synth rock? Nope. The sneering croons of a Showroom Dummy telling us to get out of their way because, well, somehow they're superior to us while this oddly sleazy ticktock beat clicks ever onward might just be the peak of Kraftwerk's existence in our world. If it wasn't for them...

I think if I have a problem here, it's that I want more. Songs go on for 9 minutes when they could've easily been 4 or 5, and when it's all said and done, you've got  5 distinct ideas on here, including the rather weak 'Franz Schubert', and I'd have liked to hear 5 more. I just can't deny the laser-like clarity of the vision happening here. This is a very carefully constructed piece of work that not only hits harder conceptually and emotionally than any Kraftwerk before (I mean, 'Dummies' is sorta scary, if you can believe that!) but yet always keeps it's musical focus. The melodies, the noises, the beats are all in their proper places at all times on T-EE, and if you hear the same ones over and over again, they don't really become boring, but rather just part of the vocabulary of your brain. Minimalism at it's best, most likely...with a sneer and some forward velocity as well. Just, you know...give me more of this stuff. Distill the mixture.

Capn's Final Word: Kraftwerk's masterpiece? They invent a musical style, become as pure and sharp as a Ginsu, and commit no crimes. But something feels a bit hollow.

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The Man-Machine - Capitol 1978.

Attempting to describe Kraftwerk's music adequately is an exercise in feeling like a complete asshole. But concepts? Kraftwerk thrive on their concepts, and if you ask me, they've come up with a string of great ones. Blame it on the slavery of modern man to the variety of bleeps and blurps directing him every swecond of every day, but when Kraftwerk wants you to visualize something, prompt a certain thought process,  or just plain feel a certain way, they know just how to get you there. 'Hey! I'm riding in a car!' 'Hey! This is some mechanical music!' 'Hey! People sure can be fake!' You know the drill by now. And the streak just continues with Die Mensch-Maschine, which rightfully explores the mechanization of humankind. And when you add the fact that Kraftwerk matches this concept with its best-ever collection of tunes, you've got yourself a butt-kicking experience. This album takes the slight sneer and catchy-as-hell dance music of 'Showroom Dummies' and expands it to an album full of successful tracks. All the songs have a great, danceable beat, a melody that comes across as being innocent, but hits a fear nerves in a way that you can't put your finger on, and chanted lyrics that drive a point home subtly but firmly. It's poppier and less avante-garde than Trans Europe-Espresso, in a way that makes me wonder how Gary Numan or the Buggles could have existed without it, rather than drudging up KMFDM and Front 242..  I get the grunged up message of 'The Robots' and the sad astral beauty of 'Spacelab', find 'Metropolis' depressing but unavoidable, am consistently blown away by how much 'The Model' prefigures ALL 80's synth-rock in such a memorable way, am inspired and then bored by the exceedingly nice 'Neon Lights', which gives 'meander' a new name on here, and like the way the title track pulls everything together into a little box and wraps it up and puts a bow on top. To me, the only fault I hold against this album is the length of 'Neon Lights' and the way 'Metropolis' always gets me down, but that's not all...

Here, unfortunately, is where Kraftwerk begins bumping up against my own personal 'glass ceiling', where my inner folkie begins crying out that 'This music lacks soul!!' and 'This music is just the same riffs and drum patterns over and over!' and 'My Nintendo makes better music than this!' It's the lack of passion, the surface coldness, the reliance on planning and precision and apocalyptic visions that begin to degrade the total score. What feels funny is that Autobahn felt like it was made by humans who made mistakes (like most of Side 2), and The Man-Machine sounds like it's the product of a program, precise and effective, but lacking in rough edges. The interesting parts are meted out like prescription doses, and you always know how much cool stuff you're going to get at any particular point in time. There's a formula at work here, if you will. What's more, I like listening to the goofy title track of 'Autobahn' much more than the pop ditties on here. Why? This is where your personal input comes in. Kraftwerk have, to all intents and purposes, created a perfect version of their sort of art. Can you accept it? There isn't much to keep you from enjoying it, like Radio Activity, and it's got more ideas and great melodies than Trans-Europe Express. But I, for the life of me, can't give it more than an A- despite the pacification of my inner critic. Believe me, it certainly beats the New Romantic movement, and towers loftily above all it's various bastard children, and is a fine piece of art. But I sorta just want to take my key and run it down the side of the perfectly painted and finished door panel, you know?

Capn's Final Word: Glossy. Catchy, Thought-provoking. Devoid of fat and gristle. Grandpapa Synth Rock, just as grumpy and perfectionist as the day it was born.

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Computer World  - Warner 1981..

Kraftwerk, in its time, pioneered synth avante garde noise (bad), ambient (okay), minimalist synth-rock (good), and now...electro-dance? Ew. I guess when you're spinning off new genres as fast as Kraftwerk was, there's not too much time to quality control, and with hindsight always indicating you're always gonna find an ass somewhere, I guess we can forgive our friends for the genre (hey, they just do what their synths tell them to do! If it's crap, blame the Korg company!) but what's hard to get over is the air of no longer being on the top of the Kraftwerk-y game. For one thing, Computer World is the first Kraftwerk album in some time in which the concept does nothing. Oh, it's all over the album, don't worry. The idea that people have computer systems ALL AROUND THEM doesn't fill Kraftwerk with warm fuzzy visions, believe you me. But it also doesn't fill them with quite the fits of horror (well mannered, stone-faced, and ultracalm horror) that you expect it should either. They just, umm...sort of report the facts. A computer runs the bank. A computer runs law enforcement. You play with a computer and make it do things and it makes you feel like you're part of something. They even have the balls to come right out and say that making synthetic music is pretty fucking easy ('Pocket Calculator'), in case you've forgotten. The only song that bears any resemblance thematically to the nightmares of '77-'78 is 'Computer Love', which FUCKING PREDICTS CHAT DATING!!! 15 YEARS EARLY!  And already knows just how desperate and degrading the whole fucking idea is. But that's it.

Everything else just lays there...if the music was as compelling as it could be, we'd just say 'aw hell, buy the dang thing', but it's not. This is music designed for a 1981 dance floor, and though you'll marvel at the lack of innovation dance floors have undergone since then, this is simply the album that created Techno music, for good or bad. The melodies are downgraded in importance, sequenced bleeps and blurps replace the inspired riffs of old, and, well, if you've EVER heard techno music, you're going to feel right at home with this album. What else is there to say if this thing's only purpose seems to be for you to bliss out in a fit of preprogrammed boogie? It's sort of a musical opiate...strangely listenable, but you feel a bit sick and used after the effect wears off.  The songs may shift, but I'm damned ripped to remember exactly how they shift, and the whole cerebral-cinema quality that previous albums had so much of is gone completely. If there's magic here, it's the magic in how enduring these EXACT SAME SOUNDS are to so many people, but for someone used to being surprised and provoked by Kraftwerk, Computer World is a disappointment.

Capn's Final Word: Respectable, because it forces you to add another chapter in the book 'Musical Styles First Conceived Of By Kraftwerk', but let it be a short one. It's techno dance music.

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Rick Atbert     Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: This was my first Kraftwerk album, so it holds a little bit of sentimental value...I like this one more than you do, but I can't say I listen to it a whole lot anymore.  Either way, I really like at least two of the tracks on here ("Pocket Calculator" is the cutest song ever, and "Home Computer" is at least pretty catchy), but it seems too much like a more dancy Trans-Europe at time.  You were right, Trans-Europe only has 5 distinct ideas (unless you count "Franz Schubert" as a knockoff of "Europe Endless", which it kind of is).  Same here - 7 tracks, but "Computer World 1" and "Computer World 2" match, as do "Home Computer" and "It's More Fun to Compute". 


Anyways, you're still missing a couple of albums.  1991's "The Mix" probably wouldn't interest you if you didn't like this release, as it's dancey as all hell, but the reworkings of "Autobahn", "Radioactivity", and "The Robots" are worth it.  There's also their 2003 "Tour de France Soundtracks" which features 2 great songs and a bunch of shitty ones.  But at least it made them tour again, and let me tell you, if you can catch a Kraftwerk show, do it.  It's not as if they're great musicians, or even entertaining, but it's weird as all hell - the four guys just sit there the entire show and press buttons on the computer.  Tell me, why did this band need four members anyways?  Aphex Twin did a huge variety of stuff and that's just one man.  When a techno group gains a member, which almost never happens, their sound changes radically.  But these guys...it's all the same.
(Capn's Response: Hey! Where'd you get the idea I don't like 'dancey'? You shoulda seen me do the 'Hustle' and the 'Mother Popcorn' at my daughter's birthday part last weekend. Okay, so there was no music, and I was on the table with no pants on. At a McDonald's playground. But, goddamn it, dancey isn't the problem here! I am. )


Electric Cafe  - Warner 1986..

Since when did Kraftwerk turn into Art of Noise? Sometime in the five years that elapsed between Computer World and this pieceashit, I'd suppose, when the trippy, dippy Seventies turned irreparably into the reality-overload Eighties and the kind of atmospheric and psychological movements that Kraftwerk had been working since Autobahn suddenly got chewed up, swallowed, and passed through the sissy colons of the synth-rock movement.  This isn't just a case of 'the world catching up to Kraftwerk', as it were...I'd hazard to guess not a single one of the plaster-haired youngin's had yet made an album equal to Trans-Europe Express by 1986, but then again this is not Trans-Europe Express. Or Radio Activity. Hell, this isn't even Telly and Cookie Monster Sing the Best of Englebert Humperdinck, this is twinky, thin dance-pop that mostly sounds fit for a 1987 lower Manhattan yuppie dance club where dorky stockbrokers in Armani suits and enormous plastic-rim glasses discuss junk bonds and snort baby laxative off Italian whores' tits. Any moron in Ultravox could've made this album if he'd had the nerve to shut up and make a mostly instrumental record in the first place - structurally this thing's about as multi-layered as a 'Wizard of Id' cartoon. It's not repetitive and thin for meditative reasons - Electric Cafe is thin and repetitive because it's really just disco music. Besides the odd whispered soundbite (the one at the very beginning prophetically says 'Boring! Bm-chat!' over and over...I swear to God, it does) this is all based on the Synthesized Drumbeat, little bits of FM-modulated fart noises either short (bass drum), long (snare), high (hi-hat), or nonexistent (an interesting percussion noise), and the odd four-beat riff makes an appearance now and then, just to remind us we're not actually listening to a bunch of deep scratches playing hell with our CD-player's anti-skip device.  

Alright, so in final analysis, I really don't hate it, but it is the first Kraftwerk album (well, since they figured out how to be musicians, anyway) to truly have no point in existing whatsoever. While every other album had it's nifty little concept (e.g., a car trip, radios, the Dirty Sanchez), this one seems to be, well, about dancing, and that's a little fucking lame if you ask me. While I like some details of these songs (the electrified 'Music....Nonstop!' chant on 'Musique Non Stop'), Not a single one beyond 'The Telephone Call' advances beyond the 'Reject Madonna Background Track' level of semi-danceable, over-repetitive, unimaginative beat music, and I'm only saying 'Telephone' p does probably because unconsciously I think it sounds like Depeche Mode. I wouldn't even call it slick, because most people not coked up to the nines would probably prefer dancing to, say, the Pet Shop Boys than this desolate thump-scape, but it is, shall we say, a whole helluva lot more like a real song than most of Electric Cafe. Needless to say, black people were doing very similar things at the same time with much better results (which you couldn't really say about earlier Kraftwerk), and there's very little of the feeling that you're rediscovering the 'roots' of anything like you might've felt in the past.  Electric Cafe is neither cutting edge, shamelessly hooky, or seductively atmospheric.  It's just a dance album, and Kraftwerk going out on a just a dance album sucks so hard my tonsils turn inside out.

Capn's Final Word: The bleep-blorp is oddly soulless and unfunky, and besides that there's the inescapable feeling that Kraftwerk has consciously cheapened themselves here.

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Gavin Ewoldt     Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: Not the best Kraftwerk album or even the best piece in any category of music. Still a major jem with Kraftwerk's catelog. The style of kraftwerk reach levels of music in the later years... ask Afrikka Bambaata and many more. Never really saw any more music tasting the Autobahn days really. Electric Cafe music could still be played today and get an acceptable handshake versus the Auto or Radio stays. Just a bold album very appropriate for its time.

 


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