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Autobahn (2009 Remastered Version)
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Electro Pioneers, living legends and globally revered masters of electronic sound, Kraftwerk celebrate the 35th anniversary of their landmark 1974 hit 'Autobahn' by releasing digitally remastered versions of eight astounding albums. 8 x individual CDs presented in special slipcases featuring newly expanded artwork, including many previously unseen images all of which have been reproduced to the highest technical standards.
Autobahn is an iconic record made up of several essential elements: the graphic motorway symbol on the cover, the slamming of a car door and starting of an engine that precede the music, the rasping vocals and the whoosh that imitates the approach and passing of cars. It’s a 22-minute synthetic symphony to the possibilities of road travel that combines seemingly innocent enthusiasm with a note of deep caution.
Its melodic progress and the sheer pleasure taken in exploring the sonic possibilities of the newly available synthesizer make it as accessible to an eight-year-old as the most wizened critic. Although the lyrics of the title track hint briefly at the presence of nature in the sun’s glittering rays and the green edge of the motorway, it’s roundly addressed by the suite on the original b side of the record. Although less familiar, the four instrumentals represent a counterbalance to the harsh industrial daylight of Autobahn. They trace a journey that takes in night-time comets, an eerie midnight and ends with a morning walk serenaded by flutes and acoustic piano.
The motorway is an all-too-familiar presence in our lives, but listen to parts of the title track – for example, the passage that begins 10 minutes in – and it’s clear that Kraftwerk are holding up a mirror to the world to reveal its strangeness. Although the group have occasionally been chastised for failing to present a more critical perspective, Autobahn’s deliberate ambiguity is an essential aspect of art and has ensured its longevity 35 years after its original release.
Autobahn is the first of eight albums that Kraftwerk have chosen to re-master and re-release. Although a controversial decision in some quarters, its predecessors Kraftwerk 1 and 2 are lesser works that lack the thematic unity and musical distinction of the rest of the group’s oeuvre. As with the other reissues, much effort has clearly been devoted to the remastering and presentation of the work and the uniting of Emil Schult’s illustrations with the UK motorway symbol is particularly satisfying. Absolutely essential. --Colin Buttimer
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Although I haven't listened to Autobahn yet as I bought the album as a present rather than for myself, I did hear that it was supposed to be very good so maybe I should get round to giving it a try sometime. Highly recommended.
When I read the list of new albums being entered in the Grammy Hall of Fame, I decided to listen to all of them again. Records from Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols and Lou Reed Plus More Inducted Into The Grammy Hall of Fame.
It's been a fun ride and no less so than listening to the still quirky LP Autobahn.
Back in 1974, I didn't pay much attention when the single "Autobahn" made it to the Billboard charts. I was still in my Southern California rock and the nth Bob Dylan phase. I was living on a farm on Prince Edward Island pretty much gone back to the land. Nothing could be further from my mind than techno instrumental rock.
Little did I realize how this type of electronic music would spread. When I got the CD before Christmas 2014 it was like truly weird to be back in the 70's and feel that vibe.
Unlike most rock and roll which is derived from the 1950's fusion of blues, country and gospel AKA Elvis the Pelvis, Kraftwerk were making music grounded in European classical music melted into rock and roll. On "Autobahn" the band was still incorporating organic instruments like flute, guitar, piano and organ long with the multiple synthesizers, vocoder, electronic drums and other electronics.
The LP version of the cut Autobahn is actually 22 minutes long, not 4 minutes like the single. The song is a modal tone poem much like early 20th Century classical music that left the 19th century melodies and lyricism of classical music in the dust. The vocals are simple lyrics played through a vocoder describing the joys of driving on the Autobahn, Germany's high-speed highway. The car door opens and closes, the motor starts, the horn toots and off we go on a 22 minute ride.
Autobahn "capture(s) the feeling of driving on the Autobahn: from travelling through the landscape, the high-speed concentration on the fast lane, to tuning the car radio and the monotony of a long trip. It describes the A 555 from Köln to Bonn--the first Autobahn ever." Wikipedia
If you can get off on music, you will get off on "Autobahn". Melodies are repeated, changed, morphed and unless you speak German you have to let yourself go with the beat and the music. By the time the song stops and the journey is over, my head and heart got a major workout pumping way above normal. The whole album is the rock secular equivalent of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.
Thankfully the album takes you down after that. The last song ends with daybreak and the sound of birds waking up. We are at peace with the new day with the feeling of Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun".
"Autobahn" was the 4th album by Kraftwerk and their most completely conceptualized and executed. It was thematic and laid the foundation for other theme LPs that followed like Tour De France Autobahnand Radio-Activity.
The four members of the band - Ralf Hutter, Florian Schneider, Wolfgang Flur, and Klaus Roder - were so innovative they literally created things we take for granted like the drum machine. Their drum machine experiments included one version that was light activated by the movement of the musician. That idea failed and they reverted to the system we use today of drum triggers and electronic beats.
The band is still touring. There is a great retrospective article in The Guardian you might enjoy. Why Kraftwerk are still the world's most influential band.
What's even more amazing is that Kraftwerk more or less kept to themselves, not answering the phone even. They did not engage in wild rock and roll antics. They just worked on their art at the self-designed Kling Klang Studio in Dusseldorf, Germany.
A lot of rock and roll artists pan electronic drums and beats but they are the way of most popular music. It's rumored that the Texas blues group ZZ Top experimented with electronic drums and drum machines in the early 80's but refused to admit it due to the back lash from fans and other musicians.
The album was remastered in 2009 and sounds excellent. Autobahn - Amazon.com, Amazon.ca in Canada and Amazon.co.uk. I got my copy from Amazon.co.uk in the UK since it cost 1/3rd the price.
The years have gone by and I've only become more fascinated by Autobahn. Taken literally, it's a trip down a German motorway rendered with analogue synthesisers. It could have become a camp museum piece, but the spacey, classically-influenced arrangement and wonderful invention have rendered it a classic. There's just something about it that never seems to date.
Kraftwerk would later continue the themes of retro-futurism that they touched upon here, but I don't think they were ever more experimental or more musical. In the bass pulse of the title track, you can hear any number of future music forms. But then in what used to be side two, you can also hear equally sparse invention with a flute. Yes, that's the most influential of electronic bands ever ... with a flute.
I absolutely love this record. It somehow manages to be challenging and comforting at the same time. Like meeting an old acquaintance on friends reunited and finding that they were more fun than ever.
Listen and learn how mankind has built upon two sticks tapping, to develop intricate understanding of the sound-scape... Darkened room not essential; try listening in the car.