Thursday, April 16, 2009
Good news. Five years on from Computer World, Kraftwerk are still in love with synthesisers, with electronic percussion, with mass communication, and with voice sampling.
Since 1981, of course, electronics have become an integral part of the pop industry, and Kraftwerk have influenced everybody from "New Age" instrumentalists to hip hop DJs.
The band them-selves may have produced only one single – 'Tour de France' – in that time, but the rest of the industry has spread their message for them.
But now we have Electric Café, an album that couldn't have been made by anybody except Kraftwerk.
The first side is an inconsequential piece of hip hop nonsense, beginning with 'Boing Boom Tschak' (vocal samples of the phonetic sounds drum machines normally make), running through 'Techno Pop' (pretty synth melodies and more vocal samples), and culminating in 'Musique Non Stop' (still more vocal samples, this time with obvious chipmunk effects à la Zoolook).
Side 2 begins with a song, 'The Telephone Call', with its obvious telephone noises, international operator messages, and endearingly out-of-tune singing.
It is to Electric Café what 'Computer Love' was to Computer World.
Then comes the album's highlight, 'Sex Object' – all pounding drum beats, clinical vocal delivery, and cleverly spun-in TV dialogue.
But there's the unexpected bonus of a DX-ish (and very un-Kraftwerk) strings section, and a neat sampled slapped bass in what, for convenience, I'll call the instrumental break.
The album's finale and title-track is really just 'Trans Europe Express' re-written, and comes as a disappointment after the surprises that precede it. The French vocals – more brash statements about the electronic age – are fun, though.
No matter how thin Electric Café seems to be in the creativity department, Kraftwerk's finesse at crafting (pun intended) all-electronic pop is constantly in evidence.
This album is appealingly sparse – everything serves a purpose, and everything works, from perfectly positioned beep to perfectly positioned beep.
But the sparseness is deceptive. Listen closely and you realise there's an awful lot going on at any given moment, especially in the areas of vocal treatments and stereo panning.
The real charm of Electric Café is the fact that it sounds as if it was recorded with a few Casio keyboards, a vast chunk of outboard gear, and some meticulous attention to detail.
It's enough to make you re-think not only all themusic that's been recorded in the last five years, but also all the music you've ever recorded.
Maybe that's what Kraftwerk have always done best.
^ Dg From Magazine 1986