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Kraftwerk - Autobahn CD (album) cover

AUTOBAHN

Kraftwerk

 

Progressive Electronic

3.49 | 201 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Koln to Bonn in under 23 minutes

"Autobahn" (the German word for Freeway or Motorway) was the 1974 album which delivered a first taste of critical and major commercial success for Krafkwerk. The move into the big league was entirely down to the editing of the 22+ minute title track to become a 3 minute single. That single found some chart success in the US and even greater success in the UK and Europe.

By the time of "Autobahn", Kraftwerk had already gone through line up changes, but the core duo of Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter would remain together into the 21st century. Due credit should also be paid to engineer Konrad Plank who worked with the band on their early albums, and was responsible for transforming the base tracks for this album into what we actually hear. This would however be Plank's last collaboration with the band.

The album consists of the monster title track which occupies the whole of side one of the original LP, plus a quartet of 4-6 minute tracks on side 2. The track "Autobahn" is an audio sketch of a high speed journey from Cologne in Germany to Bonn, the former West German capital. Given that these roads had no speed limits, presumably 22 minutes and 30 seconds is a feasible time for that journey! The piece is the first by Kraftwerk to feature vocals, although these are brief and largely monotone, and the first to feature their newly acquired minimoog. These innovations afforded the band the opportunity to vary the sound more, although the self imposed mechanical restraints which are now familiar to us, are very much enforced throughout. Repetition, synthesised sounds and occasional sound effects are the overriding motifs which dominate the track, the results seeming highly original to the audience of the day. Indeed, those who approached the album on the basis of the 3 minute single would probably have been somewhat taken aback by the apparent inaccessibility of the extended version.

The tracks on the second side of the LP are loosely based around a theme of the passing of a night. There are no vocals at all on these four tracks, the music consisting to a greater extend of ambient soundscapes painted on synthesiser and minimoog. The opening pair of tracks on this side were inspired by the comet Kohoutek passing through the night sky (It also inspired a track Argent on their "Nexus" album which has a slightly Kraftwerk feel to it). While the inspiration for the two sections may have been common to both, musically there is little to link them together, part 2 being much more lively and upbeat with pleasing polyphonic synth sounds.

Mitternacht(Midnight) is the least musical of the tracks on the album, the focus being on ambient noises rather than anything tuneful. The closing track Morgenspaziergang (Morning Walk ) begins in similar fashion, but real flute (not synthesised) introduces a peaceful repeating melody to close the album.

In today's context, the rudimentary, almost clumsy nature of the title track in particular may bemuse a younger audience. Those of us who were there at the time though will remember this album with some affection. At the time it was without doubt one of the most innovative and original albums commercially available. Strangely, to this day the album has managed to avoid release at mid-price, an accolade reserved only for a few chosen artists and albums.

Incidentally, it was Germany's ability to move their troops and equipment rapidly via the Autobahns during the second world war which inspired President Eisenhower to commission the interstate system for the USA. The UK approach has been more haphazard, resulting in journey times today more akin to a slow ballad.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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