Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

la! NEU? - Zeeland

la! NEU?

Released 1997 on Captian Trip
Reviewed by phallus dei, 29/05/2015ce

Thanks in large part to Julian Cope, as well as stalwart keepers-of-the-faith Dag Erik Asbjørnsen and the Freeman brothers, krautrock in the mid-to-late '90s was hip again. Like all aging krautrockers, Klaus Dinger was eager to get back in the game and (finally) gain the recognition he so adamantly felt He deserved. However, Dinger - being Dinger - was also determined to stage his comeback His Way. In an early 2000’s interview where he explained his approach to life as a “Total Artist,” Dinger stated that one of the reasons he never let anyone manage his career was because he never found anyone more capable than himself. But while such bravado fits in well with Dinger’s self-referential mythology as the consummate “Hero,” it also prevented him from realizing his full potential. Aside from Arthur Lee, I can’t think of any Great Artist whose work suffered as much from self-sabotage as that of Dinger’s.

Dinger’s first attempt at reestablishing himself in the mid ‘90s, aside from the Captain Trip limited release of the live Die Engel Des Herrn CD and reissue of 1985’s Néondian - both of which made no impact at all – was the infamous NEU! 4, which was actually a decent album, but had its tracks sequenced so haphazardly as to deter all but the most committed.(1) He followed this with the even more dubious NEU! ’72 Live! in Dusseldorf, a poorly recorded rehearsal tape that would have been acceptable had it been a torrent on Dimeadozen, but in no way warranted an official release (let alone at import prices).(2)

So when the questionably named la! NEU? – Dusseldorf album appeared, with a sleeve just as “thrown together” as the two previous releases, and once again on Captain Trip, it’s understandable that most people stayed away. Even worse, the album itself, while starting and ending on a high note, contained a huge pustule in the middle – the 33’39” live jam “D.-22.12.95,” which, while (somewhat) enjoyable on its own, sounded completely at odds with the rest of the album. Of course, those significantly in tune with the Dinger trip would be able to appreciate the DIY sloppiness of such covers and the flash-in-the-pan inspiration of meandering jams. But within the context of making a comeback album that would reestablish Dinger as a significant force on the scene, such “spontaneous” moves were akin to shooting oneself in the foot.

Instead of being meekly satisfied with “what is,” I’d much rather imagine “what could have been.” I’ve filled the gaping hole in the middle of Dusseldorf with the best parts from Zeeland, its live-in-the-studio successor. I’ve also retained Zeeland’s sleeve and made that the album title. So no, this review is not for the released “Zeeland” per se, but a comp of the best tracks off Zeeland bookended with the best from its predecessor, to actualize what would have been, had it been released, one of the best of the late ‘90s “krautrock comeback” albums.

The bright colors on the cover and the addition of “la!” to “NEU?” clue the attentive head that while this album is definitely Dinger, it’s Dinger with a twist. A more feminine Dinger. The album title Zeeland (instead of Dusseldorf) further suggests a change from the norm – Dinger leaving his city to hang out with (younger) friends by the seaside. The back cover shows Dinger and his mom with three 20-somethings – Andreas Reihse, Victoria Wehrmeister and Rembrandt Lensink.(3) la! NEU? is Dinger reborn, but reborn in a different light. The eternal NEW incarnate in female form.

The album easily divides into three phases: a “Dinger side,” an “electronic side,” and an “acoustic side” -
Phase One – Hero ’96 / Mayday ’95 (27’ 01)
Phase Two – Insekt / Danke Je Sanne (22’03)
Phase Three – To Get You Real / Satellite of Mine / Mayday ’96 (21’13)

Phase One -
A few hesitant notes amid tape hiss, then KD saying “Eins, zwei, drei, vier,” followed by drums and the background vocals of VW in her ur-language. The amount of space in “Hero ‘96” is quite remarkable; no matter how loud (or soft) you listen to it, it still sounds good. And as the song begins to find its groove, Klaus Dinger reintroduces himself as “just another hero,” reflecting on his life, his audience, and the world after a 20-year hiatus from the previous “Hero,” but this time via a 10-minute rant that deserves to be quoted in full:

Global competition, malnutrition, capitalism, communism, I gave you my vision, Cha Cha 200, mythology, yeah! Global competition, malnutrition, new technology, media for shizism, industry for shizism, I piss on you, I piss on you! This is ‘96, a proven genius, copied by copies all over the world, (something in German), you are shit! I piss on the industry, oh, I piss on TV, its just lies lies lies lies, oh, lies lies lies lies, media for shizism, hey – (speaking in German, sounding very indignant), media for shizism, you listen to modern rock n’ roll, listen good listen well, tinsel town tinsel town, you’re so racist, I piss on you tinsel town, this is ‘96, I’m a proven hero! Oh I’m a proven hero! No I’m not another hero, I’m THE HERO, oh, that was ‘74, and I go to Japan and I ask for political asylum!(4) Piss on the industry, media for shizism, media for shizism, this is a battle, Indians come back, someday – yeah! Media for shizism, promote the idiots, (condemnations in German), piss on you, piss on the industry, j’accuse, j’accuse, ha ha, media for shizism, through your TV out of the widow, through your TV out of the window, lies lies lies lies, its all lies, hey man, listen to this now – I’m searching for my mainline (the music briefly quotes Sister Ray before going back) – hello, where did you go, and you David, WHAT ABOUT YOU DAVID? Where did you go, media for shizism, malnutrition, crazy crazy crazy… then Dinger trails off before announcing “I’ll make a pause now” and the song continues for twelve more minutes in instrumental mode.

Suffice it to say, the whole thing is so bizarre - and upon first listening, disorienting – that it’s hard to know what to make of it. Sure, the music is great, but that rant – it’s like Guns n’ Roses’ “Get in the Ring” but a bit less crude – and who the fuck is David? A stand-in for anyone who’s ever sold out and betrayed The Cause? You look at the liner notes of Dusseldorf and read Dinger’s hastily scrawled proclamation: “My 199 I.Q. ripened through countless adventures + far more than 1,000 trips tells me: we better spend a bit more time on trying to understand each other.” Maybe so, but at this point you can’t help but wonder if the rumors are right: Dinger really is just an acid-fried nutcase (and that old-man-with-a-Charlie-Manson-stare photo of Dinger in the Dusseldorf booklet isn’t doing him any favors).

But then, just as the strangeness of what you’ve experienced begins to reside and the music regains your attention, you notice that Victoria is mouthing syllables in time with the building intensity of the song – ca cu ca cu, ca cu cry qui, cra cra – that then coalesce into the word “crazy” just as the song crests – and you realize that Dinger is intentionally playing with his self-image as “acid casualty” – and Hero ’96 stands as Dinger’s ultimate vindication against those who, because of their shortsightedness, were either unwilling or unable to deal with Dinger on his own terms, trying instead to force Dinger into the accepted category of “rock musician.” Because really, who else but a “total artist” could make music like this?(5)

As if to show off his expertise, the rest of the song raises and falls at whim, like constantly driving up and down a hilly road in the countryside; at the crest you arrive with such speed that you momentarily feel like you’re flying, only to go back down and then up again. Personally, I’d rate Hero ’96 alongside Dinger’s best drumming. Compared to the NEU! albums it’s a bit more bouncy and there is less use of cymbals, but it’s every bit as propulsive and full of life. Dinger’s guitar is righteous, too, sounding as self-confident as his vocals. Another “Eins zwei drei vier” and the song ends, but not before reminding you that it could go on forever if Dinger wanted it to.

And then for something completely different – “Love is on my mind, love is on my mind,” Dinger passionately intones, before asking “Mayday, why don’t you come out to play?” which simultaneously refers to both “Dear Prudence” and the lost radicalism of the ‘68 generation, as is made clear by the following verse – “May Day, why do you have to fade away?” Dinger in interviews frequently lambasted the West’s growing conservatism, which he saw as beginning with John Lennon’s death, and “Mayday ’95” is Dinger professing his love for an era. The song is an uncharacteristic acoustic piece with minimal percussion and bass, plus occasional – but perfectly placed - bits of static.(6) After a beautiful guitar solo, the song ends with Dinger asking, “Why do WE have to fade away?” Is a certain amount of selling out inevitable? How to maintain the righteousness of youth?

Phase Two –
“Insekt” begins with talking and tape hiss, followed by cheap electronics and VW’s wordless vocalizations. It’s hard to see what role KD played in this, and indeed, the song is only credited to Vicky and Andreas. (As this and later releases revealed, la! NEU? was a group effort, and not just “Klaus Dinger’s band.”) Insekt doesn’t make much of an impression, but it does work as a short improv electronic piece, and as a change of pace from what came before. It’s got an appealing DIY feel – the mic inadvertently squeaks, etc – and out of the chaos it briefly builds to something almost interesting. But greatness remains tantalizing out of reach. Still, at least they are trying for it. Mostly, though, Insekt’s role is to prepare the listener for the next song.

And then a cut into one of the most gorgeous electronic melodies on top of a fast heartbeat pulse, with VW’s quasi-French vocalizations through a cheap microphone. Once the initial surprise wears off, it retains its majestic quality for a while but then seems like something is lacking – the track’s full title: “Dank Je Sanne (For Not Erasing the Tune of Dank Je Sanne)” gives a clue – it’s a rehearsal, not really intended to be much beyond the band improvising and trying to find a groove – but then they do – and it’s totally beyond their wildest expectations, to boot! It happens somewhere in the 5th minute - Victoria, Andreas & Klaus come together magically, and it’s like they open a portal unto another world, and all the listener can do is sit back in mouth-opened wonder. Imagine if the NEU! aesthetic had been remodeled for the Kraftwrek aesthetic, but with a decidedly bouncy beat instead of motorik, and where Kraftwerk’s sleek aerodynamic world has given way to an organic multi-dimensional DMT-inspired world of angels and machine elves. It’s the kind of song (and world) you can loose yourself too. And when it’s over, you realize it could have gone on forever, and you’re slightly annoyed that it didn’t. It’s like that unexpected and slightly unwelcome return to everyday “reality” after you’ve glimpsed the True Reality of an acid trip. Looking back at what you’ve just experienced, you deduce that “Dank Je Sanne” is the feminine counterpart to the masculine “Hero ‘96” – but unlike the latter there is no need to “prove” oneself à la “piss on you” – there is just resilient existence that is awe-inspiring in itself.

Phase Three -
“Trying to Get You Real” consists of bright-sounding guitar over minimal drums and tambourine, with VW repeating “I’m trying to get you real when you are not” over & over like a mantra. Yes it is elitist, but how could it not be? The role of the artist is to become aware of the unfulfilled potential within society, and then guide society to realize that potential. It’s like Lenin deduced way back in 1905 – left to their own devices, the masses will be forever stuck in the mire of false consciousness. Change can only come from the outside. The artist is the prophet, the vanguard, showing the way to fulfillment. In this particular case, Vicky alternates between English and made up phrases, and who’s to say which is better? Each turn seems to add a new level of intensity, goading us on, demanding that we rise to glimpse what she can so plainly see. But then, like most sex, one of the pair goes on for a bit too long. The peak is passed, and the end is just a guilty case of making the other feel “satisfied.” So no, the breakthrough did not come. But should we blame the person who gave rise to our expectations, or should we blame ourselves for not fulfilling them?

Then it’s like a krautrock variant of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (closer to the Dylan version than the GNR version). Here the repeated lyric is “Satellite of mine,” sung by Dinger, and it’s just him on guitar and Andreas on keyboard, plus a slight metronome in the background. It sounds quite nice and confident, the guitar solo is near perfect, but then it suddenly breaks off – a wrong note? I can never tell. And what is the purpose, conceptually, of Satellite of Mine? The relationship of the fan to the artist; the disciple to the guru? Does a satellite possess its own agency? Does the satellite only come into actualization when it has something to orbit? How does the moon feel? After the misstep in the song, there is a sigh of regret followed by resigned laughter. The satellite has broken free of its orbit and Dinger appears content to let it drift away.

The album ends around the campfire, similar in vibe to “Osenbe” off the Japandorf album. It’s a reprise of Mayday, this time conveniently labeled “Mayday ’96,” and consists of acoustic guitar, tambourine, and fade outs. Dinger and Victoria sing together with the intimacy of lovers, and I’ve always wondered if they were actually a couple or if they were just content to represent the Yin & Yang thing in archetypal form. “Love is on my mind,” Dinger sings again, while Vicky adds her vocalizations around and thru his words. The combination of their voices makes us reexamine our faulty binary-based understanding of reality – male / female, old / young, experienced / amateur (VW at this time was in no way an “established” artist) – if we could just see the unity of the two, instead of the binary, perhaps we could catch a glimpse of the potential reality imbedded within the present – kind of like trying to answer the famous Zen koan, what is the sound of one hand clapping? – and then, having seen the reality we could explode that reality – and bring the potential into existence with a force akin to the Big Bang. “Why don’t you come out to play?”

I dedicate this review to Risa, my old college friend, with whom I used to talk about Art.

1. Fittingly, NEU! 4 was the first Dinger album I bought, purchased due to Cope’s praise of the band in Krautrocksampler. Because Cope clearly loved NEU! so much, I kept listening to the at-first-disappointing NEU! 4 over & over, until it finally made sense. It turns out that in this instance I was more patient than Cope, who mailed a broken copy of NEU! 4 to Dinger in protest.

2. Had Live! in Dusseldorf been a budget-priced 2 CD set packaged alongside Eberhard Kranemann’s self-released CD-R of additional live NEU! recordings (and featuring Uli Trepte), it just might have been salvageable.

3. Actually, Rembrandt and Dinger’s mom don’t appear on my mix of “Zeeland,” but their inclusion in the back photo offers a hint of how the band would develop.

4. In Dinger’s art-piece, “New Dead-Line 4.7.96 (12345 Mandela),” which is included in the liner notes for Dusseldorf, he warned that unless he was given a fair contract, he would go to Japan and “and ask for political asylum there + launch a big campaign against Western business + media fascism.”

5. The first time I ever listened to Hero ‘96 (fall ’97) I was really high…. A bit after Victoria’s declaration of “crazy” she makes another pronouncement, either in French or her made-up language, which I misheard as “God is gone, Klaus Dinger lives on.” The sheer audacity of such a statement - but also, given the circumstances, the sheer appropriateness of it - made me burst into a fit of laughter. Ever since, Dinger has remained my favorite rock n’ roll star by far.

6. Over the years, it has been amusing to see people complain on blogs where Dusseldorf has been offered that the mp3 for this song is corrupted. But like the intentional drop-outs in the first NEU! album, “cracks, dropouts (sorry Sony?) etc. are part of the ‘production’/game.”

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