Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Kraftwerk - Electric Cafe

Kraftwerk
Electric Cafe


Released 1986 on EMI
Reviewed by Solist, 16/07/2008ce


Well, once you hear THIS album first, it will be quite hard to go back and imagine what Kraftwerk sounded like earlier on. At least such a shock happened when I discovered and considered 'Electric Cafe' being done by a novelty band whose name I couldn't even pronounce first time I saw the album in the shop.

No before or after. No compromise. Only later, once when I became aware of them as legends, it turned out Kraftwerk were a regular soundtrack to various TV quiz-shows, commercials or documentaries... a soundtrack I never perceived as a child for all of the dull aspects of television.

For all of its virtual depictions featuring four electronically severed heads floating in a strange vacuum, it was hard to relate them to anything (or anyone) living on this planet. It was a frustrating moment - trying to read from their faces any slight marks of humanity, an album of six tracks was too irritating an issue even for a kid not knowing what the fuck. Pop-albums seem to bear ten songs at least - or so we're brainwashed to accept such standard of an 'album'. Kraftwerk obviously knew different - they kept it in small but effective doses.

Now that we all know Kraftwerk, 'Electric Cafe' is no longer a surprise it once was. However, 1986 marks their era of 'total digitalization'; 'Electric Cafe' now makes it a rather distant, spookily minimal 'ghost in the machine' - however, it is still of major relevance, tirelessly kicking out with its extreme simplicity. 'Electro' came and went before or after it, many of their contemporaries ran over them at the time, but despite it being claimed a creative crisis period the group suffering not only contents but also human flesh, with its final title of choice, 'Electric Cafe' was a delicious coffee-table product with recycled and virtually unknown space. It seems to be their ultimate 'last' statement - loopholes are squeezed into a mere thirty-something minutes of fresh futuristic minimalism that still defies both music and geometry.

The opening number 'Boing Boom Tschak' needs no particular explanation - it is an instant pop-hit there never was - three ridiculous words suggesting sound from another source delivered by a speech programme that calculates synthetic beauty and the beast. A song everybody might know well and sing along - the problem occurs however, when people realize, it cannot be whistled to. But it is a bombshell in a club - a strict dress code: heads only.

This three-minute 'newspeak' slides into one of the best electronic pop pieces made by mankind so far - 'Techno Pop'. A title that was originally intended for the 'Cafe' - but personally, now that I know the story, I am glad Ralf Hutter decided to avoid the obvious techno-rhetoric Kraftwerk became notorious for using. It certainly rid them of more commercial appeal to this particular album but in a conceptual way, it remains strong with all of its intrigues; take 'Musique Non Stop' - you'd expect a massive contemplation of anything musical. Kraftwerk instead choose to play with silence - bare rhythm and stop-start vocals that inform the theme which is still so far ahead of any time... Sharp and simple, silence slides in and out from within what now seems to be a true Kraftwerk manifesto - 'Musique Non Stop - Techno Pop'. Albeit technology became too popular these days and yes, amongst other things, we seem to blame it on Kraftwerk as well.

Side B to this 'LP' seems to go more conventional in terms of a 'pop-song' the first side's medley suggests but avoids at large. 'The Telephone Call' is a stunning experiment incorporating communication routines where distance degrades emotions. Be it 'phone sex' or simple 'I love you', Kraftwerk very well address this problem - telephones putting people in unsuitable, automatic position. There is communication but there is no communication. No eye-to-eye contact, no emotions can be expressed through a telephone line. Now that we're living in an era of mobile phones, the image of 'The Telephone Call' is even more frightening. Everyone seems to update themselves with their favourite mobile phone model. Techno-pleasure but emotional frustration.

Similar but also radical in emotional study is 'Sex Object' - a strict commentary on manipulating emotional and sexual views between the two; it deforms a stereotypical man-woman relationship - the issues of love and sexuality are quite open for different considerations; both male and female vocals question their (homo)sexual state of mind here ('... no, no, no, no...! Why? Maybe... perhaps... Yes!).

The closing number seems to be the biggest trap set in Kraftwerk's vaults - many address the problem of redoing 'Trans Europe Express'. Well, if you listen to it closely, there is a slight drift from the original, I remember listening to both albums and never really associated one with the other - because, both are delivered without the complexity of 'repeating' themselves. Yes, it bears similar concept - additionally, both - 'TEE' and 'Electric Cafe', have three tracks flown into eachother... But while 'TEE' makes it a conventional part of modern technology in the past, 'Electric Cafe' looks far into the future, which it set high standards for, but still cannot envisage properly - it's a remarkable piece where computer collides into a melodic, undetermined futuristic anthem, meeting a half-human stranger, placed in a suitable virtual setting. Obviously, the only image of this future left is we're all imagined to look like the four Kraftwerk heads floating in a vacuum, destined to communicate face to face, given selected multilingual phrases - sort of a limited choice but still an acceptable way of mutual understanding.

Friendly with technology but not without its warnings - keeping a healthy balance between the man and the machine. A peculiarly sexual experience that keeps Kraftwerk an ultimate group from whatever future is out there still waiting to happen.


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