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Neu! - Neu! 2 CD (album) cover

NEU! 2

Neu!

 

Krautrock

2.96 | 91 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Don't be misled by what looks like a stingy rating: those two little stars are simply my acknowledgement that this particular album, perhaps more than any other here at Prog Archives, is an acquired taste, and guaranteed to polarize even the most open-minded audience. It might be a masterpiece of creative ingenuity, or it might be nothing more than a desperate hoax - you can honestly argue both opinions with equal merit.

The rating also reflects how the album needs to be heard in its original long-playing vinyl format; otherwise it won't make any sense. But I'll address that curious fact in a moment.

To this day, the sophomore effort by the pioneering duo of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger still confounds all but the more stalwart champions of Krautrock, and with good reason. It's even more uncompromising than the first NEU! album, and brilliantly so, in a nose-thumbing sort of way: a gauntlet thrown in the face of musical conformity. Like its predecessor it was recorded in a mere four days, with the team picking up right where they left off the previous year.

The opening track "Für Immer" distills the patented motorik blueprint of "Hallogallo" (the NEU! trademark cut off the earlier album) to its purest essence: a relentless 4/4 rhythm with lots of dreamy guitar overdubs, maintained here over eleven exhilarating and/or interminable minutes. Eventually it fades out on a lot of funny noises (as if someone stuck a finger into the tape machine while it was recording), and what sounds like an amplifier being pushed around: an ominous foreshadow of things to come.

This might be the best, most representative track Rother and Dinger ever recorded together, and they must have blown their entire production budget on it. What follows is (to say the least) certainly Spartan by comparison, even for a group not unacquainted with primitive electronic minimalism.

"Spitzenqualität" is a five minute motorik drum beat over a droning guitar buzz, with the percussion gradually slowing down until it disappears completely into an echoing void. "Gedenminute" is sixty seconds of wind effects and tolling bells. And "Lila Engel" is a simple one-chord (one-note?) pre-punk thrash, likely caught on the first take, and sounding like an outtake of "Super", the B-side of the "Neuschnee/Super" single featured on the flipside of the album.

This is where the weirdness begins. Faced with a punitive deadline and a shortage of cash, and with only half an LP in the can, Rother and Dinger simply filled the entire Side Two with variations of their single: sped up to a pixilated 78 rpm, slowed down to a plodding 16 rpm, mangled in the tape machine, and so forth. Even more perversely, they did all this right off the turntable, so the first sound you hear when you drop the needle is...the sound of a needle dropping. And not gently, I might add.

Now you understand why it needs the original vinyl to really work. This is genuine Twilight Zone stuff, but the irony would be completely lost in a digital format. All the snaps, crackles, and pops on the original 45 are reproduced verbatim, and listening to the record you can't separate the real scratches from the reel scratches, so to speak. At one point the stylus is even sent skittering across the grooves, sounding to any dedicated audiophile like fingernails being dragged down a blackboard.

The same what-the-hell impulse also led to that peculiar warped vinyl fade-in to "Für Immer". Every time I hear it I swear my aging turntable has finally spun its last LP, but no: it's actually a part of the recorded song.

The stress of the session broke up the band, but the two sides of the "Neuschnee/Super" single, played at regular speed, at least offered a stylistic preview of their more rational 1975 reunion album. The A-side showcases Rother's evanescent guitar and his ear for catchy melodies, and the B-side is quintessential Klaus Dinger at his confrontational best: an early punk prototype of ballistic drumming and snarling guitars, with Dinger's distorted grunts and howls passing for a vocal performance.

You might say necessity has always been a mother to invention. But it would take a forgiving listener to insist the total here adds up to something more than the sum of its crazy-quilt parts. Go ahead and debate the album all you want; if nothing else it certainly has novelty value. And there are those of us who would insist that something so willfully weird should hold a place of honor in any well-rounded record collection.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |

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