Sunday, June 6, 2010

Album Review - Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)

Because I've been busy of late, I thought I'd be lazy and just grab a review I did a few years ago.

Kraftwerk - Autobahn (1974)

What can I say about Kraftwerk that hasn't already been said a millions times? They changed the way electronic music was viewed by the masses, and went on to influence everyone from synthpop (obviously), to hip hop ("Planet Rock"), to rock (Bowie and Iggy Pop are big fans), as well as mapping the way for trance, techno, house, ambient and basically electronic dance music in general. But lots of 'early' influential albums are now either considered old hat, or just not that great to begin with.

Autobahn is not like that. At least not all of it is. Groundbreaking for several reasons, as one of the first charting albums with an overwhelming electronic base, as a futuristic concept album, and with the highly unique drumming used, Autobahn was a completely fresh sound. Whilst still retaining a sense of their Komische background (the Motorik beat towards the end of the song Autobahn is a treat), Kraftwerk, with their new Moogs and vocoders, pressed into the future with a bang.

And with the revving of a car, we are welcomed into Kraftwerk's concept of the future. Giant highways as far as the eye can see, surrounded by green hills and plateaus, it would be an ordinary lazy Sunday morning drive in our time. But it's.. more efficent. Something is controlling everything. While it is a pleasant experience, it feels somewhat artifical. And it isn't long before monotamy settles in. It's the start of Kraftwerk's fascination with the concept of technology, and how it will change the human experience.

What I neglected to mention is that Autobahn is a brilliant song, regardless of concept. The synth lines are melodically pleasing, the drumming intruiging, and quite honestly, any 22 minute song that can have me as rivetted as this one can for it's whole timespan is a work of genius.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album just doesn't hold up. Kometenmelodie 1 is just wank, a sort of dark ambient soundscape that is uninteresting bar a nice piano riff near the middle. Kometenmelodie 2 fares better as a more upbeat affair of the title track, before descending into dark ambient again with Mitternacht. The second half of Morgenspanziergang has a nice piano/double flute combo, but is nothing to write home about.

The title track makes this an essential purchase in my book, regardless of the quality of the other songs. Autobahn will rightly go down as a defining moment in the development of electronic music, maybe THE defining moment. While Kraftwerk would go on to produce more consistently powerful music in later albums, Autobahn works as a sketch; of later dance music, and well as a society that may already be here today.

Here's a link to the heavily condensed sing version of Autobahn: