"Tour de France Soundtracks" (Album, 2003)
Forget any nonsense you've read saying that Kraftwerk have 'lost it' and remind yourself of what we said about their last release. Whilst this undoubtedly falls far short of classic Kraftwerk, it is still a welcome addition to their catalogue. Don't expect a quantum leap in stylistic development and you won't set yourself up for a disappointment.
It is true that the three extrapolations of the classic Tour de France single (Étape 1-3) are basically wallpaper, as is the pointless re-recording of the original, and would be best not included here. Their poor value is thrown deeper into relief when one focuses on the remainder. Perhaps most unexpectedly, this album has more in keeping with the structure of 1974's Autobahn whilst utilising sounds reminiscent of Trans Europe Express. This then is ambient soundscape - not electronic pop. (Compare this to former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos' latest selection of techno pop.)
It's true most of the concepts aren't as 'thought-provoking' of some of their best work and a couple of the tracks wander a tad too much. Yet, there's still more exhilarating, sublime genius in the 30-second opener Introduction than the combined content of a dozen randomly selected other recent releases. Ironically, the best thing to do with this album is to programme out all the Tour de France variants and instead enjoy the kind of sojourn that only Kraftwerk are capable of delivering. The opening bassline and percussion of Aéro Dynamik is worthy of the admission price alone. By the time we get to the heartbeat, panting voice and techno ping of Elektro Kardiogramm with its distinctive melody, things are really beginning to settle in.
Then comes La Forme - the standout piece of the entire album. It's rich tapestry of trademark beeps and basslines is surpassed only by a lead melody that harks back to the epic journeys of Trans Europe Express. A glorious experience from start to finish and a terrific Kraftwerk song. Period.
de France Soundtracks does prove that when it comes to sound generation, Kraftwerk
remain at the pinnacle of achievement. No-one can match their technical skill
for conjuring up sounds as rich and warm as they have ever created, or for beats,
percussion and clicks where no amount of processor power will ever be a replacement
for natural born sound engineering talent. Kraftwerk fans shouldn't hesitate to
add this to their collection. Others could do a darn sight worse too. 7/10
Rob Dyer (12-04-04)
"Expo 2000" (Single, 1999)
Incredibly, Kraftwerk's first new material to be released in thirteen years! What have they been up to all that time you might wonder? Creating a new kind of music that will rock the planet just as they did in the 70s? Well, "No" is the only answer. But Expo 2000 (commissioned by the German authorities as the official theme to the Hannover event of the same name later this year) could have been an unused track off their 1986 album Electric Cafe (or either of the preceding two albums).
The problem for Messrs Hutter and Schneider and co. for a long time has been living up to their ground-breaking past and the huge influence they have had on music across the globe. And whilst this release will do nothing to put Kraftwerk back at the sharp edge of new music it still manages to tread water the way many bands would still aspire to. There are four versions on this single. The three-and-a-half minute Radio Edit is a spacious ambient outing with Kraftwerk's trademark robotic voices calling "Expo 2000" and "Man, nature, technology" in English and German. As ever, there is a gloriously simple yet ingenious couple of hook melodies which wouldn't sound out of place on the b-side of 1974's Autobahn. Least convincing of the four is Kling Klang Mix 2000 (track two) which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, little more than the Radio Edit mix at twice the length.
The Kling Klang Mix 2001 is even more chilled-out than the opener. Spaced-out male and female robotic voices joining together over a fine net of Kraftwerk sounds distilled to their essential elements. But the most refreshingly unexpected diversion comes in the guise of the super funky Kling Klang Mix 2002. Kicking off with a very fat bass line, one can just picture Ralf and Florian swinging their hips back and forth to this in some cheesy German nightclub just off Dusseldorf's red-light district. The only thing in this release that seems to have changed in the intervening decade and more is the spelling of Ralf's surname. This is definitely retro electro and just as cracking as ever it was in many respects. Just don't put your money on Kraftwerk winning any innovation awards anymore. 7/10
Official Kraftwerk website: http://www.kraftwerk.com