Electronic pioneers, their sound and image an equally well-crafted work of genius, Kraftwerk captured the industrial expansion of a divided Germany, looking to the future whilst still weighed down by its past. The motorik beat, the swathes of chugging synthesised keyboard chords, the deadpan vocals and even deader stage image are unmistakable. They’ve influenced everything from David Bowie’s ambient industrial wasteland on the second side of Low to the 12” remixes of New Order.
They themselves were equally influenced by Bowie and Iggy Pop, namechecking them and Bowie’s album Station to Station (which came out about 6 months before Kraftwerk started recording this album) on the song Trans Europe Express. This LP is their sixth, just over half-way through their entire discography, but its arguably their creative and commercial pinnacle.
It starts with the bright melodic repetitive refrain of Europe Endless, before the optimistic soaring synth line comes in. This is somewhat countered by Ralf Hütter’s emotionless vocal. He sings a vision of Europe with “Parks, hotels and palaces…Promenades and avenues…Real life and postcard views.. Elegance and decadence”. And at 9min 40, it really drives home the Endless aspect of travelling across this great continent.
I heard the second track Hall of Mirrors most recently in an episode of Mr Robot (which I’ve only recently discovered and became near obsessive about, mainlining three seasons in a couple of weeks) where it fitted absolutely perfectly. In that context it didn’t sound retrograde or nostalgic, it sounded utterly contemporary, and atmospherically brilliant. It’s arguably the best song on this album. Rounding off side one is Showroom Dummies, which has become a calling card of sorts, in that this is how they were described by the press on a UK tour. The album’s perfect airbrushed cover emphasises their mannequin persona.
Following on from their motor-loving concept album Autobahn, Trans Europe Express celebrates the intercontinental train journeys across Mitteleuropa. Its insistent driving motion underlines a the simple refrain of the song’s title. Its unmistakably Kraftwerk. The track segues unnoticeably into Metal on Metal (which is a fantastic, purely electronic prototype of later industrial hardcore rock) and from there straight through to Azburg, before 13 minutes later it finally judders to a stop with a screech of brakes. This is clearly an intercontinental no-stopping train. This is effectively the birth of the 12” remix.
Rounding off side two is the lovely light melodic instrumental of Franz Schubert, a tribute to the Austrian composer, and a reprise of sorts with the fade out of Endless Endless reminding us of where we came in. “Europe endless / Endless endless endless endless.” I can’t think of a better argument against Brexit.
Best Bits: Hall of Mirrors and/or Metal on Metal
Genre: The birth of electronic pop
Like This, Try This: Siouxsie & The Banshees cover of Hall of Mirrors