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

RADIO-ACTIVITY [AKA: RADIO-AKTIVITÄT]

Kraftwerk

 

Progressive Electronic

3.18 | 194 ratings

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SonomaComa1999
2 stars REVIEW #12 - "Radio-Aktivitat" by Kraftwerk (1975). 07/28/2018

I have to decided to do a new series of reviews based on this site's random album generator, and this was the first one that came up. Now I admit I had never heard of Kraftwerk prior to stumbling upon this album; I was surprised to see that they have a pretty decent following and are well known (at least in Europe). Receiving almost ubiquitous critical acclaim for pioneering electronic music, this German band which was founded by members Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter rose out of the city of Dusseldorf during the Cold War, which had split the once proud German nation into two shells of its former self, the capitalist West and the communist East. Prior to the release of their 1975 album "Radio-Aktivitat", they had achieved mainstream commercial success with the album "Autobahn".

There is a recurring theme which surrounds this album, that being the concept of electricity and its functions. Although the album's title, which translates to "radioactivity", may be perceived as having nuclear connotations, it rather serves as a pun to refer to radios (Radio activity, or the activity of radios). As opposed to previous Kraftwerk albums, the band relies almost entirely on electronic sounds, which makes for a rather quaint futuristic sound while remaining nostalgic. Think of how the video game series Fallout was set in the future, but still retained an element of 1950's culture which allowed it to have this alternate reality; Kraftwerk's album has the same dynamic, but with the bleak and tense atmosphere of Cold War Europe and the 1970's. It makes for a rather homely sound which does not sound too disturbing or radical, almost like what people would have expected what society was like in the year 2018 back in 1975. "Radio-Aktivitat" was Kraftwerk's first album to top the charts, doing so in the nearby nation of France.

The album is opened with the sound of a geiger counter, which subliminally refers to the literal interpretation of the album name. This is considered its own track, but segues rather flawlessly into the first true song, which is the title track and the lone single to come off the album. Just like the album, it performed very well in France as a single, and further pushed the band into prominence. We are introduced to the Kraftwerk style of music, which relies upon recurring themes and motifs of electronic music coupled with rather repetitive phrases of lyrics. The band lyrically shifts back and forth between the concept of radio waves and radioactive decay between the sinister and foreboding tone of the digital background. Making prolific use of electric drums and synth, as well as some morse code which repeats the song name, we are treated to a rather fitting introduction to the album which basically encompasses what we are to hear going forward. I will admit that electronic music is not a niche of mine, but this is a fine song. The same can be said for the next tune "Radioland" which focuses the themes towards the short-wave radio, a device used by Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain to communicate with each other during one of the modern world's most tumultuous and fear-inducing conflicts. Through the band's music you can feel the reserved atmosphere of the German nation as it is carried along in the rapids of what seemed like a never-ending stand off between the United States and Soviet Union. I particularly liked this tune as it had a much more comfy tone to it as opposed to the opener; both Schneider and Hutter share vocals on this track, and vocal distortion is used to spice things up. Continuing on with the concept, the band shifts the topic over towards modern forms of radio communication with "Airwaves" which is a more fast-paced and active tune that introduces another new sound to the listener. I could say that this tune is maybe more optimistic than the previous two, while it still retains this avant-garde mischievous sound that the band seems to have a bit of a knack for. One problem I have early on is that the band is relying on this rather long songs which largely lean on an almost homogeneous sound, which tends to get rather boring past the half-way point. "Airwaves" is the perhaps the greatest offender yet, although it will by no means be the worst by the end of the album. To salvage this issue, the band is not being outright annoying with these sounds, and we get another moment of quaint cold-war nostalgia with the segue into an intermission followed by two more short tracks which include a spoken word news report on radioactivity as well as a brief scientific interlude to open the second side of the album.

Here's where things begin to deteriorate for this album. The second side of "Radio-Aktivitat" in my humble opinion is a total flop. While "Antenna" is an okay yet once again repetitive dance-oriented synth-pop tune which fits in with what we were exposed to on the first side, what perhaps take the cake for being the most annoying song on the album is the three and a half-minute "Radio Waves", which consists of nothing more than a very annoying bubbly synth motif with some overlaying vocals. I wouldn't doubt that if the KGB stole information from the West Germans, they would have stolen this track and used it to torture East German political dissidents. That's how bad this tune is; it is a mere waste of your time to listen to; I really can't see how anyone could rationally like this. It's supposed to be about pulsars and quasars, but this was not evident upon my several listens of this album - I guess it's because I can't speak German. Anyway with that behind us, we move on to the shorter "Uranium" which really is not much of a reprieve from the noise that just assaulted my ear drums. The band breaks out the Orchestron for some more weird avant- garde sounds in tandem with some more equally weird distorted vocals. I would qualify this as more of an ambient tune, hammering down the fact we have gone completely off the beaten path from where we were just five minutes ago. Thankfully this is not as long as the abomination which preceded it, and the subsequent "Transistor" is a return to that homely feel that I have sort of have grown to appreciate from this album. Wrapping things off is the closing track "Ohm Sweet Ohm", which is an extension of that feeling, going almost six minutes in a more accessible tone that allowed me to complete the album without wanting to rip my head off. While it ends the album decently, it really isn't that much of a consolation for what is an obviously weak second side.

I tried listening to "Radio-Aktivitat" several times given my lack of familiarity with electronic music. However, this album just never really grew on me outside of the first side; I hesitate to even call it progressive outside of the literal definition of moving music forward. Sure we have an interesting concept related to electricity and radioactivity, but it ultimately falls flat under a lot of synth and avant-garde mush that gradually grows tiring. This album barely falls short of forty minutes, but it feels like an hour at least just based on the sheer repetitive nature of the content. I was surprised to see that this album actually charted here on America's Billboard 200 album charts, although it only hit #140 as opposed to #1 in France, #4 in Austria, and #22 in the band's native Germany. I had never heard of Kraftwerk up until now, and while I will still give their other albums an opportunity in the future if I stumble upon them, I am not impressed. For their 1975 offering, I will give it a two-star (66% - D) rating; this is rather generic and boring electronic music, with only one real listenable side. I would only really recommend this for fans of the electronic music genre, as they may find some sort of sympathy for it. I will prefer to stick to my analog guitar and symphonic vocals, thank you very much.

SonomaComa1999 | 2/5 |

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