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Customer Review

7 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tired and tiring, 2 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Techno Pop (Audio CD)
Kraftwerk was one of the greatest and certainly most influential bands of the 70's. After the break-through hit single and album, Autobahn in 1974, the German quartet went on to form its arguably definitive line-up and produce two excellent, if flawed, albums and two ground-breaking era-defining classic albums, namely Radio-Activity and Computer World, Trans-Europe Express and The Man Machine respectively.

You will read elsewhere how Kraftwerk pioneered dance rhythms and influenced a whole generation of electro-pop, but it seems most writers today focus too closely on the beats and too little on the melody and romanticism that truly defines the whole Kraftwerk output. This does the band a great disservice I believe. The group was originally founded during the time of Krautrock, an era when young West Germans who were born after the war were attempting to provide a music for their own generation. Kraftwerk was not interested in being part of any movement however and would rightly ditch the limitations of Krautrock (traditional instrumentation) shortly after and would subsequently develop its own artistic bent demonstrated by its sharp incisive witty lyrics and minimalistic ideas usually wrapped in a beautifully simply melodic structures created using home-made or custom built synthesizers. The 70's albums dealt with themes of travel, communication and modern living. The music was not simply about the future but also provided a reflection of the best of the past and particularly references pre-war (non Socialist) German folk music. The romantics looked to the distant past to provide a focus on the future as they saw it with a unified utopian Europe, into which man and machine were living and working together in blissful harmony.

However perhaps in part due to the changing music trends by the early 1980's and partly due to a vacuum of ideas the group was set on a path of repeating previous triumphs. The planned follow-up to 1981s lacklustre Computer World LP was to be called Techno Pop and was going to feature just four songs with the title track taking up a whole LP side. Side 2 of the planned LP was to feature The Telephone Call, Sex Object and Tour De France. The latter track was edited down to a 3 minute single and released in 1983 (the original proposed version was released on a 12" single) with great success. By this time Kraftwerk had enjoyed a No. 1 hit with The Model in Britain and many new fans of the group were rushing to buy the quartet's older material (myself included).

Listening to a portion of the proposed title track today only serves to remind us why they ditched the material and lacked confidence to release it in its original form. By 1984, many groups had come and gone who had used synthesizers to make music and the proposed material from Kraftwerk would not have sounded cutting edge or modern enough. EMI also rejected the demos provided as presumably the company also didn't see "enough Hip-Hop potential". A sad reflection of the 1980's maybe, but true. To perpetuate and compound the problems, Ralf Hutter suffered a serious cycling accident which lead to the group waiting for his recovery to continue with the planned album. Advances in digital recording and instrumentation also made the material seem somewhat quaint without being strong enough to withstand repeat listening. Some writers have also cited the lack of a theme as being a bone of contention with the new material.

By late 1984 the Tour De France song had been re-released and remixed to the point where the group rightly elected to remove it from the planned LP. However with the paucity of new ideas and developed material the group decided to concentrate more on re-recording the whole project over using digital methods. The song Techno Pop was stripped of all its wonderful melody line and became a more muscular rhythmic track. Added to this were new bookend pieces Boing Boom Tshack and Music Non Stop, neither of which had much if any melody. Both The Telephone Call and Sex Object were rebooted and a new song Electric Cafe added. However all of the new material was remixed and finished in New York as if in a vain attempt to guarantee its place amongst 'hip' modern records of the day.

Never again would Kraftwerk be considered an innovator. By 1981 the group was stuck in a corner, happy to merely copy those artists who cited them as a major influence.

As someone who bought the finished LP "Electric Cafe" on the day it came out I was bitterly disappointed. Over 25 years later I am still convinced that the group was BOTH right and wrong to do what it did between 1983 and 1986. The album was poor back when it was released as it lacked the fun, unity of ideas and melodic strengths of the best Kraftwerk albums. It was time for a sabbatical and the group would grant itself a 17 year one by which time Tour De France song would rightly be re-instated on an album about nothing but the famous cycle race. Note the 20 year gap in release dates from the planned album to the completed Tour De France Soundtracks album. A lost period or a deliberate part of the group's 'living' art and an easy period in which to hit the delete button for the sake of revisionism? In other words, if the Tour De France Soundtracks album was 'business as usual', do we elect to forget the missteps of Electric Cafe and as the group's longtime serving confidant and artistic advisor, Emil Schult, believes the misguided remix album from 1991? Are we to forget the 1986 album completely as an insignificant blip on the Kraftwerk radar? As if to demonstrate the obvious lack of appeal of Electric Cafe and the problematic time the group had recording it, two original members left the group shortly after its release and today we find the single surviving founding member, Ralf Hutter, tinkering with The Telephone Call song. The new changes are not an improvement sadly.

This leaves the newly retitled Techno Pop album as something of an oddity in the Kraftwerk oeuvre. Delete it from your minds then and you have a near perfect run of albums from Autobahn through to Tour De France (2003), discounting the album of remixes, The Mix (1991). All the remaining albums have strong themes and still sound ahead of their time today. The released album Electric Cafe and its badly re-mastered cousin Techno Pop do not. Pumping up the bass and compressing the sound does nothing to improve a bad LP, neither does replacing one long song with two shorter tracks including a remix of the first song - The Telephone Call debacle.

So to put any minds at rest who STILL wonder if the ORIGINAL "Techno Pop" album will ever be released let me simply underline the fact that that album does not exist and truthfully never did. It was completed as far as the Tour De France song and the early demo run-throughs of Sex Object and Techno Pop. These can be heard on some unofficial CD releases from the early 1990's. Nothing else remains. Techno Pop was what Techno Pop is today: sub-standard Kraftwerk and really best forgotten.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Feb 2013, 12:48:45 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Feb 2013, 12:59:15 GMT
MAC says:
Thanks for you interesting views about this album, it is like a potted history of the album and I agree with most of what you say, it is their weakest by far. However, I am actually quite fond of the mix!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Feb 2013, 16:27:28 GMT
L J Thomson says:
"The Mix" or 'the mix' of this album? If the former, then I agree with you - the album of remixes is really 're-models' and back in 1991 I really liked it. In fact it was that album which prompted me to go and see them live. When I was in Germany for a short time I even bought the German version of the same album. Nowadays I own all their albums in every language, where possible.

Posted on 11 Feb 2013, 18:31:17 GMT
MAC says:
Yes I mean the Mix, the album. I actually saw them live, I think the original line up, when it was released 1991 (Sheffield city hall). I see that there is a bootleg of this this tour, do you own that and if so it is worth having?

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Feb 2013, 09:36:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Feb 2013, 09:36:49 GMT
L J Thomson says:
No, I usually ignore bootlegs due to the haphazard nature of them, poor packaging and (often) dismal sound quality. Anyway, it would appear pointless to have a unauthorised (technically poor) 'live recording' of a concert that is essentially pre-recorded digitally and near enough identical to "The Mix" album it was promoting? By the way, you did not see the original line-up in 1991. By this time, both Wolfgang Flur and Karl Bartos had long left the group. Only Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider were in the original band. I saw them in 1991 with the two newest 'members' of the group at The Hummingbird in Birmingham. It was slightly surreal given that the venue (now long demolished) was a small dingy backstreet nightclub. When we arrived we could hardly believe we had the right place! We went in and it was standing only. After half an hour some black curtains were drawn and there stood the robots! Totally weird and unexpected!

Posted on 12 Feb 2013, 19:31:47 GMT
MAC says:
Well it was at least 50% original Kraftwerk then! It was easier getting tickets to see them in 1991 than it is nowadays by the looks of things, strange how things change, maybe they have become more iconic?

I'll stick to the Mix album then, you are probably right about bootlegs.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Feb 2013, 09:37:26 GMT
Last edited by the author on 13 Feb 2013, 09:40:36 GMT
L J Thomson says:
Back in 1991, Kraftwerk were all but forgotten apart from their hardcore fan base and DJ's and anyone seriously into 'electronic music'. Don't forget that by this time this style of music was considered quaint and old hat. The 1980's synth driven pop music had all but killed off any credibility a band had that wanted to be seen as 'serious'. Kraftwerk hadn't made an album for 5 years and that in itself was very poor. Memories of Computer World were by this time 10 years old. The 1990's were about the return to grass roots rock 'n' roll. In Seattle there was Nirvana and 100 wannabes. In the UK we had Britpop: Blur and Oasis following on from the likes of The Smiths and The Stone Roses. Electro was out of fashion. Into this time frame stepped Kraftwerk with an album of remixes of some of their old classic material. The album received generally positive notices in the music press and there were enough 'old school' fans to go and see them but there was hardly a great clamour for tickets like there has been in recent years. I think this is (in part) due to the realisation that the Kraftwerk legacy stops at Tour De France Soundtracks. Ralf Hutter is busy curating the legacy by fine tuning the older material with new mixes, new 3D visualisations, better sound systems etc. The new shows do look great. A friend of mine who was not even a fan was blown away on the night he went to The Tate. The press are now finally waking up to the fact that it is a German quartet who don't play conventional instruments that have arguably influenced contemporary Western music more than anyone else. Quite simply Kraftwerk is an art form that is completely unique and is now being understood fully for the first time by some. With the smaller venues and increased interest it is therefore hardly surprising that tickets are harder to get hold of. Ironically, it is Karl Bartos who will be gaining out of all this; his new album due out in a few weeks time - "Off The Record" - is based on unused Kraftwerk ideas from back in the late 1970's. His album will sell well on the back of Ralf Hutter's recent live exhibitions. Contrary to what Hutter has promised, I do not believe he has any new material to offer. Bartos has and he has unexpectedly timed things perfectly!

Posted on 13 Feb 2013, 22:55:11 GMT
MAC says:
You know your stuff! I knew that Karl Bartos had a cd out but didn't really link it with the Kraftwerk's current popularity, although it can't do much harm. I didn't realise that I actually have his first cd, it's going for nearly £50 on Amazon, I didn't know it was so rare - i'll dig it out for a listen. I also have the Kraftwerk biography, but it's down my reading pecking order, not enough hours in the day! It's odd to think that 20 odd years ago I got tickets to see Kraftwerk, the Rolling Stones and the Stone Roses without and problem, now i'd need to get lucky spending hours on the phone or sell a kidney to afford the Ebay prices to see the same bands!
Well they are easily the best band to come out of Germany, I can't think of much competition.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Feb 2013, 10:29:40 GMT
Last edited by the author on 14 Feb 2013, 10:56:04 GMT
L J Thomson says:
I also have the earlier albums from Bartos: "Esperanto" (by Electrik Music) 1993, "Electric Music" 1998 and finally (solo) "Communication" 2003. Esperanto has some fine tracks on it but half of it is really poor dated Nineties 'techno' rubbish. Electric Music is a solid effort and much better BUT it is not what you might expect from a member of Kraftwerk! It is a sampled and digital version of Karl's take on 1960's British rock music. In other words, it's more like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces than Kraftwerk. It is very different (for him) and shows the more human side, if you know what I mean?

Communication (2003) is a return to the Esperanto style and whilst much better overall, still gets bogged down in half-baked dated synth ditties and very repetitive ideas (not in a Kraftwerkian style either). The conventions of the three minute pop song are adhered to more on this album and there is more going on than on any Kraftwerk album. Whilst I did like it I wished that Karl had adhered to the style of minimalism like his former bandmates AND not grossly over-used the vocoder either! Sometimes less really is more. I don't like the newly streamed track "Atomium" at all. It is seriously lame. I will buy the album out of sheer curiosity. 33 years of listening to Kraftwerk ensures me of that!

Posted on 15 Feb 2013, 15:39:22 GMT
MAC says:
Yes I have heard Esperanto, my brother had a copy and I quite like some of it. How do you rate the remastered versions of the back catologue in general, I have only bought the Mix since my original copy went AWOL. I see the box set is going up in price and it was never to cheap to start of with! just heard Europe Endless on radio 6, all 10 mins or so, still sound great. They seem to play them quite a lot of radio 6, not just the Model!

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Feb 2013, 16:05:55 GMT
L J Thomson says:
The remastered CD's are very poor: high compression, reduced dynamics and LOUD volumes, totally unnecessary. Computer World and Techno Pop are the worst. HOWEVER, the GERMAN versions are MUCH better. Better still are the GERMAN VINYL issues which are the only ones I've bought so far. They are stunning. I now have all their albums on vinyl at least twice each: English original / German re-issues remastered where possible. I have The Mix in both UK and German CD versions from 1991 and Tour De France CD from 2003. As these two albums were DIGITAL to start with, there is no point in owning LP's of them. However the 2009 so-called remastered versions are IDENTICAL to the 1991 / 2003 respective versions. They are NOT remastered!
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