Motorik. The pulsating, metronomic groove laid down by so many krautrock (or krautrock influenced) bands is said to have originated with this album, specifically with the intoxicating leadoff track, “Hallogallo,” which features some neat little synth and guitar flourishes along with its hypnotic groove. This is music that was tailor made for a long car drive, and though it’s basically background music, it's really good background music that builds nicely and ends all too soon after 10-minutes. But by then the band, comprised of ex-Kraftwerk members Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother, had arguably laid down the most influential groove since Bo Diddley established his much-copied beat. Unfortunately, nothing much happens on the second track, “Sonderangebot,” which is almost inaudible and barely passes for background music; the same could said for the better but still boring “I’m Glück,” which is notable for its watery atmospherics and at least wakes up a little about halfway through, though it also never really gets going. Fortunately, “Weissensee” is much better, in part because you can actually hear it, but also because it’s darker, even if it isn’t exactly memorable, either. The song features slow beats and synth squiggles, but it’s when the guitar parts kick in that the song gets a bit livelier, even if it still qualifies as not especially involving background music overall. The same can’t be said for “Negativeland,” the album’s best track (along with “Hallogallo”) whose near 10-minutes also comes and goes all too quickly. This one could be called an early industrial track, and boy do the boys make a hypnotic racket, as the song, which influenced many a later post-punk combo (such as Negativeland!), features an incredible intensity, especially towards the end, and its abrasive textures and use of dissonance was as ahead of its time as was the futuristic beat of “Hallogallo.” Alas, two great tracks - even two 10-minute tracks - does not a great album make, and the album ends weakly – make that horrifically – with the truly awful “Lieber Honig.” Now I know why the rest of the songs here are all instrumentals, because the hoarse croaks featured on this sad sack of a track are damn near painful to listen to they’re so bad. Anyway, the final tally is two classic, completely revolutionary tracks, another good one that’s a grower, two boring ambient instrumentals, and one track that should’ve been aborted by any means necessary. So, let’s give the album an A for historical importance, a B for actual musical listenability in this day and age 40+ years after the fact, and settle for a B+ rating overall.
Neu! 2 (United Artists ‘73, Astralwerks '01) Rating: C+
Wow – and I thought that Neu! was inconsistent! That album is a masterpiece of consistency compared to this disappointing follow-up, but at least there was a reason this time. What happened was that their first album didn’t sell, and as a result the band had a limited budget for album #2, and they ran out of money after only half the album had been completed. So what they did was add two previously released singles, “Neuschnee” and “Super,” remix several different versions of those songs at various speeds (“Neuschnee 78,” “Super 16,” and “Super 78”), and add two more forgettable experiments (“Cassettto” and “Hallo Excentrico!”) to further pad out an album that was mostly padding to begin with. Granted, some of these sped up (78 RPM) or slowed down (16 RPM) songs are kind of fun at first, but like all novelty songs they fail to bear up after repeat plays, and side one also features a pair of boring songs (Spitzenqualität” and ”Gedenkminute für A + K”) that don’t do a heck of a lot. On the plus side, the original versions of “Neuschnee” and “Super” are solid songs that at least take advantage of the band’s groove-based strengths, and “Lila Engel (Lilaa Angel)” is an edgier excursion that’s also well worth your time. “Super” and “Lila Engel (Lilaa Angel)” even feature vocals, though again they annoy more than anything, and really, I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to simply download this album’s lone great track, “Für Immer (Forever),” and be done with it. “Für Immer (Forever)” is a sequel of sorts to “Hallogallo,” as it too contains a steady, driving beat that will have you drumming along or at least tapping your toes. Yeah, this 11-minute instrumental is monotonous like all their songs, but this one somehow doesn’t get boring, maybe due to the synth/guitar embellishments on the side; Stereolab fans are sure to love it. Unfortunately, the band aren’t similarly inspired anywhere else, and though I guess they deserve credit for creating arguably the first remix album, frankly I’m not so sure that’s a good thing as 99% of all remix albums are utter crap (whereas most regular albums are crap only 95% of the time). Given their actual hits-to-miss ratio and the fact that their albums were out of print for so long, I’m sure that the duo themselves are shocked at how “legendary” they now are, but certainly based on the evidence of Neu! 2, being legendary doesn’t necessarily mean being good.
Neu! '75 (United Artists ‘75, Astralwerks '01) Rating: A-
OK, maybe the end of that last review was a bit harsh. These guys are good, at times really good when they put it all together, but in my opinion the only time they really put it all together for a full album was on Neu! '75, which is filler-free and contains as many or more good songs than the first two albums combined (never mind that the debut is supposed to be the classic). Ironically, Dinger and Rother weren't getting along during this album's recording sessions, "creative differences" and all that, and it's readily apparent as Rother preferred a mellower ambient style while Dinger wanted to rock out. As such, this album plays like two EPs; side one is the mellow side and side two brings the rock, but both sides are equally compelling in their own ways and the album only suffers slightly from its apparent polarity. "Isi" starts the album with a lovely synth melody (the synths have definitely increased throughout this album) and an enticing motorik groove. "Seeland" isn't quite as good, in part because it takes awhile to get going, but unlike previous teases this song does eventually get good, in large part due to Rother's soulful riffs that cut through. Closing side one is "Leb' Wohl," another ambient piece, this one quite lovely and soothing, again in contrast to previous "just there but doesn't actually do anything" attempts at such a style. Also, the breathy, softly spoken words actually add to rather than detract from the experience, as the duo improve pretty much in every area on this album. As for side two, "Hero" and "After Eight" are the energetic, riff-based rockers, again with much-improved vocals; I don't know what the hell Dinger is saying, but the passion is there and both songs rock convincingly. "E-Music" is the 10-minute motorik showcase, and though I'd rank it below the band's two previous such epics, this one is good as well. Overall, this album is notable for several things, mainly a brighter, more fully fleshed out sound, more good riffs and memorable synths on the whole, and better songwriting, as there's much less down time on the ambient stuff and the rockers smartly emphasize the propulsive motorik beat that makes them special. It's a shame that this turned out to be their last album together, and that they had to wait until so many years later to get their just due, but on Neu! '75 the band lives up to their lofty latter day reputation with an album that's at the very least a minor classic.
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