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You may not know the name, but you will know the sound alright,
This review is from: Communication (Audio CD)
The long neglected, and unrecognised genius who sat quietly within Kraftwerk and helped create some of their best songs, strikes out with his first solo album in his own right.
Popular opinion will tell you Kraftwerk were Ralf and Florian, and two other blokes. In terms of numbers, this is absolutely correct. But Karl Bartos was as much a member of Kraftwerk as they were : co-writer of every song on 1981's classic "Computer World", vocalist, and programmer / producer, he was an integral part of Kraftwerk as anyone else. To those of us in the know, he's the Techno equivalent of John Lennon.
But this is his first solo album in it's own right. And my god, it's good. Stylistically, it's a Kraftwerk album : simplistic, but never simple, sparse progressions, original and intriguing rhythms, inventive use of sounds, and some wonderful, infectious melodies. Classic sounds burst forth from Moogs, mellotrons, and other things that sound like they were invented by aliens, and make this album an experience in retro dance futurism that is effortlessly in vogue with - and far superior to - the faux-retro futurism of the Electroclash scene.
"Communciation" : like his previous album "Esperanto" and Kraftwerk's records, stands on the central concept or theme. For this album, Bartos deconstructs the nature of fame and the media as a statement on the cult of personality and celebrity in an elegant and simple style. One track (the pulsating "Ultraviolet") endlessly recycles the work of Bret Easton Ellis to exploit simple phrases that have now entered the popular lexicon, revealing the meaningful to be as meaningless as anything it seeks to replace.
Musically the album is certainly a superior, and probably obscure, addition to the genre. Not to bore you, but it sounds lush, is effortlessly danceable, has just the right mix of reclaimed, forgotten instrumentation from decades past and bleeding edge stuff. Nobody else sounds like this.
Problem is, Karl Bartos has a fetish for using the best bit of kit he ever invented when he was in Kraftwerk, and he uses it a lot. The Bands DLV. Digital Lead Vocalist. Or, a superadvanced version of the Speak And Spell machine. Instead of the neutral, clean vocals that Bartos leant to such classics as "Telephone Call", and the overlooked "Television" from his 1993 debut "Esperanto", every lead vocal on the album (or near enough every one) is performed by a Speak And Spell machine.
Sure there's been solo albums before : 1993's "Esperanto" ( a collaboration with long-established friends), 1996's "Raise The Pressure" (where, working as part of Electronic, he helped create the ultimate crossbreed between techno and guitars), and 1999's "Electric Music", which saw him divulging his love for guitars, alienating most of his fanbase, and producing a frankly turgid album of dull rock. Thankfully only one song on this album (the dreadful "Life"), appears to date from his rock-fetish days, and has been substantially reworked into the electronic arena, but is still a piece of unessential filler that demands you test the FFWD button.
It's far from perfect : a over-reliance on vocoders, a lack of elegant chord progressions, and the occasionally trite lyric detract from that. In addition, as one would expect from a founder member of the band that invented electronic music, it sounds dated. Then again, everything good sounds dated these days. From the Kylie to The Darkness, nothing sounds futuristic anymore. In fact, come to think of, the production values and retro-sounds on this album put such faux-retro albums as Sophie Ellis Bextor's Shoot From The Hip, and lesser, bland efforts by Kylie, Madonna and Goldfrapp in the shade. If a pretty girl had sung on these songs they would go Top 10. But the air of nostalgic futurism - a vision of the world the way it could've been in 2004 - overshadows this album, in the same way that all great science fiction tries to predict the future, and misses completely.
But this is his spiritual home. This is as intruiging and interesting as Kraftwerk's recent exploits : more so, in fact. You shouldn't own a copy of Kraftwerk's recent "Tour De France" without also having this one in your collection. The perfect compliment. What Kraftwerk lack, this has, and vice versa. "Communication" is the type of album that stands up as equal of any album either he or his peers have produced. Consider what could have happened : he could've turned into a McCartney, producing anodyne and dull, vaccous rehashes of his past of negliable artistic validity... or he could've done this. Remained true to the trail, and forged forward. Fast Forward Retro-Futurama.