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Kraftwerk - Autobahn CD (album) cover

AUTOBAHN

Kraftwerk

 

Progressive Electronic

3.49 | 202 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars Someone gave me a copy of this album many years ago when I was a kid. They had purchased it thinking it was more of a Beach Boys 'Little Deuce Coupe' or something like that, but they were disappointed that it turned out to be this cold, minimalist Kraut kind of thing instead. I had the same impression and, except for a few listens while somewhat stoned where I thought the sounds of cars 'moving' through my headphones was kind of interesting, this album largely gathered dust on my shelf for many years. Some things just don't transfer well across cultures. I was, after all, living in mid-western America in the early 70's, the Cold War was still going full force, and there was a broad spectrum of more friendly psychedelic, symphonic prog, and even modern blues-influenced music to listen to. The repetitive synthetic tones of a couple of robotic technophiles just didn't do anything for me spiritually or emotionally, and for me at the time, music just needed to evoke some emotion - and borderline catatonia didn't count. Sorry if that offends any Kraftwerk fans, it's just my opinion.

Several years later when bands like Gary Numan, Devo, and even Flock of Seagulls came along with their pure electronica sound, I tried to get into this album once again, but no luck. It still bored me to tears. No doubt these and many other synthetic bands, along with a whole generation of basement musicians with their Commodores and Midi players, were influenced by Kraftwerk. So too were some of the electronic dance bands of the later 70's and early 80's, I suppose -Throbbing Gristle, Art of Noise, Thomas Dolby, and the like, so Kraftwerk gets credit as one of the pioneers of the genre, but this album isn't even the best work they ever did. The Kraftwerk 1 and 2 albums were less well-known in the States, and I never even heard them until the mid-80's when there was a bit of a renewed interest in the band after their Computer World release (which is still a bit more well-known here than Autobahn), but these albums were certainly more interesting to listen to, if for no other reason than they offered a bit more variety with the added percussion at least.

Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, and even more cabaret-oriented groups like Human League and New Order really perfected the techno sound in the 80's by interjecting at least a sense of bored melodies and heroin-like stoicism in their music. While most of that was depressing, at least it had some emotional spark, which was more than I was ever able to get out of Autobahn.

The 20-plus minute cover tune was undoubtedly an ambitious and creative concept in the early 70's when computer-driven sequencing machines and programmable keyboards weren't available that would basically allow any lives-with-his-Mom techno nerd to become a recording 'musician'. Kraftwerk at least had the distinction of making their music largely one note at a time, and with actual orchestrated arrangements, so they get a nod for that. There's even a hint of violin and a small amount of guitar, particularly on the minor tracks on the reverse of the album (Kometenmelodie #1 and #2, and the rather odd Mitternacht - I really have no idea what that one is about). I believe there's even a flute that works its way into the background from time to time (unless that's synthetic too), but overall the only real variety that's detectable is the short dead space of the needle pops between songs.

The final track, Morgenspaziergang, is supposed to represent some kind of bizarro- world stroll through a meadow or something, kind of a Robot Frank meets Central Park, I guess. Again, this was probably a novel concept thirty-plus years ago, but unfortunately it doesn't wear well with time.

Today of course these sounds can be generated by anyone with a cheap PC and some sound effects shareware program, or frankly even ripped off of a Sims game CD. True, these won't have the aura of early authenticity of the Autobahn album, but the sound can be had elsewhere. Unfortunately for bands like Kraftwerk, they may have been ahead of their time with their circuit board-inspired sound thirty years ago, but the significance of their accomplishment has been lost over time with the tidal wave of technological advancements in electronic music since then.

This is certainly a critical album for Kraftwerk and techno fans, but it wasn't even considered a pivotal release when it came out in 1974. Some bands that were ahead of their time years ago have now become elder statesmen for genres that are considered more mainstream today. I'm afraid that in Kraftwerk's case, the techno sound that has evolved over the past thirty years simply serves to underscore the fact that their sound was perhaps early, but certainly not timeless. Two stars seems like the right mark for this one.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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