First Published April 2007- One Week To Live Magazine
Kraftwerk The Man Machine
Capitol 1978 (Re-released 1995)
In the all encompassing universe of electronic music that now surrounds us, it was the unlikely combination of four synthesisers experts from German called Kraftwerk who provided the big bang. In fact Kraftwerk were so far ahead of their time that the rest of the world has spent twenty five years inventing new musical genres in an attempt to catch up. House, techno, hip-hop, trip-hop, synth-pop, Hi NRG, trance, electroclash: Kraftwerk's influence looms over all of them. In fact it's impossible to imagine what popular music would sound like today if Kraftwerk had never existed.
By the time they released The Man Machine in 1978 the band had already unleashed the metallic funk of Trans Europe Express on an unsuspecting world, and the sound of Kraftwerk had already made the world sit up and take notice. Years ahead of any so called contemporaries, Trans Europe Express melded synthesized melodies to rigid precision beats, that were picked up and wholeheartedly embraced everywhere from the hip hop godfathers of the Bronx to, the insipid English boys in the back bedrooms of Sheffield.
With its Russian modernist El Lissitzky cover design and songs about robots and dehumanized cities, Man Machine cappitalised on this early success, and delivered a concept for the band that represented the next step in world domination, whilst manufacturing a landmark for modern music.
Opening single ‘The Robots’ is probably Kraftwerk at their most self referential, featuring mechanised bleeps over a punchy rhythm, the band set out their stall early, declaring themselves as Robots, and in the process creating a blue print for electro- hip hop. This robot concept was taken even further by Robot dummies taking the bands place on stage, a strange concept at first, but one that ideally represents the ideas surrounding melding of man and machine that the album was trying to represent.
Alongside The Robots Kraftwerk biggest and perhaps best know track is ‘The Model’; a strange tribute to high fashion and glamour, delivered here in a deadpan German monotone. This is a track that would be rendered a ludicrous novelty by any band other than this. Charting at number One in the UK at the height of the New Romantic era over two years later ‘The Model’ managed to ignite another whole genre of pop single-handedly, simply by being light years ahead of its time.
The beauty of this album however lies not in its leftfield pop hits but the intelligence and sophistication of the remaining tracks, to discover ‘The Man Machine’ at any stage of your music listening career is to open a whole new perspective on electronic music and its place in modern culture.
The polished sophistication and intense electronic concentration of the rest of tracks such as ‘Spacelab’, ‘Metropolis’ and particularly the sublime ‘Neon Lights’, combine rhythm, emotion and melody in a way which has yet to be bettered. Kraftwerk were not working in an experimental avant garde bubble when producing this album. Dispelling the stereotypical German coldness, the band managed to immerse themselves in contemporary funk and disco, producing the groove and rhythm that give the synthetic textures and chords their pulsing charm. To produce a landmark record of this quality of breadth today would be an extraordinary feat, but to virtually rewire the DNA of pop music nearly thirty years ago in a way that manages to sound contemporary and relevant today, is truly an amazing accomplishment.
If you have even a passing interest in electronic music of any genre, this album is an absolute necessity. The electronic sound Kraftwerk pioneered has become so embedded in our culture that it remains a template for the majority of today’s dance, pop and experimental music; despite this Kraftwerks music manages to remain fun and hugely listenable. Many so called ‘influential’ bands music today just sounds primitive and jaded; Man Machine however remains the benchmark for future electro pop disco and is as electrifying and essential as ever.