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Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity [Aka: Radio-Aktivität] CD (album) cover




Progressive Electronic

3.18 | 202 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars I seem to be going out on a limb here with my five stars for Kraftwerk's undervalued 1975 album. As of this writing, ten out of fourteen ProgArchive collaborators (a convincing 71%) all agree on its 'good, but non-essential' status, and not without reason. The general consensus is that the album was patched together under pressure to recreate another 'Autobahn', a conclusion I don't buy. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider always enjoyed total creative control over their music, and have never failed to know exactly what they were doing. So why should this album have been any different?

I can't say I'm surprised by the prevailing low opinion of it. But when revisiting the album after several decades what I hear is the first, full realization of the classic Kraftwerk ethos. At a time when rock music (and Progressive Rock in particular) was approaching its nadir of decadence, Ralf and Florian simplified their budding commercial impulses and fashioned a unique retro-futuristic self-image, combining elegant suits and poses with antique radio equipment and state-of-the-art musical technology.

For a German band it was a brilliant aesthetic concept, leapfrogging European history from the 1930s to the 1970s as if National Socialism had never happened. A happy side-effect to the new style was that it rendered the music all but timeless, even today, and despite the dated bleeps and buzzes of all those analog synthesizers, because the image of the group itself was already backdated forty years.

From a musical standpoint it's true the album is a bit thin. Of the dozen indexed tracks maybe a third are genuine songs; the balance is effects, transitions, and cyber-social experiments. The resulting collection can seem uneven (and I'm sympathetic to that criticism), but it can also be heard as an evening's old-style radio broadcast, complete with news, intermission, and frustrating on-air equipment tests. The non-musical digressions are more frequent on the second half of the CD (Side Two of the original vinyl). But in the context of their larger career the discomforting sine-waves and primitive vocoders heard in 'Radio Stars' (which I find perversely soothing, in a comic sort of way) marked an affectionate farewell to the long-haired laboratory research of Ralf and Florian's Krautrock infancy.

The album was also hugely influential, almost singlehandedly spawning an entire generation of synth-pop imitators, especially in England. 'Autobahn', by comparison, was only a fluke: a flash-in-the-pan novelty song from a pair of reluctant rockers still clinging to their guitars and flutes. Here their true musical identity suddenly emerged whole and complete, a preview to the even more streamlined packages of 'Trans-Europe Express' and 'The Man Machine'.

All this is of course subjective. But it's important to remember that 'essential' doesn't necessarily mean 'perfect' (it might not even equate with 'good'). 'Radio-Activity' is hardly the most perfect Kraftwerk album - that would arguably be either of their subsequent two releases - but there's a lot more here than just unfulfilled potential and atonal filler. It was a glimpse of the future as it might have been imagined in 1935, performed (with deadpan irony) in the present-day of 1975, and sounding no less weirdly anachronistic as I write this in 2013.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |


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