Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

la! NEU? - Year of the Tiger

la! NEU?
Year of the Tiger

Released 1998 on Captain Trip
Reviewed by phallus dei, 03/03/2016ce

1998 was the year of the tiger. It was also the name of la! NEU?’s best (and final) studio album. The cover features artistic manipulations of a postcard sent by a fan (1); the back shows a photo of the band – Dinger, his mom, Viktoria Wehrmeister, Rembrandt Lensink, and Rüdiger Elze (aka Spinello) – walking off into a park.

la! NEU? was Dinger’s first and only “band,” where all the members had a voice. Rother may have thought he had a voice, and the idealistic hope of the era gave him a 50% share in royalties, but in Dinger’s mind NEU! was always HIS vision, and Rother was just the “guitarist.” la! NEU?, in contrast, was clearly a group effort. The covers, songs, everything was done collectively and on-the-fly, without time for second-guessing. Such a devil-may-care attitude was likely due to Dinger’s dire financial situation: listening to these releases you definitely get the impression that he had to make an album quick if he wanted to eat. Predictably, such desperation did result in several questionable releases appearing under the la! NEU? moniker (2), but it also brought forth an unpredictable vitality missing from Dinger’s more “polished” works. Prime la! NEU? ranks among Dinger’s best music. Hindsight, along with considerable editing of the source material, has made the value of la! NEU? apparent.

Luckily, Year of the Tiger as-it-is is already a good album. But to fully deliver, it needs to be augmented with two tracks that were recorded around the same time. This mix provides a 79’25” masterpiece, making Year of the Tiger not only a worthy follow up to Zeeland (3), but one of the highlights of Dinger’s career:

1. Comme Nuages Dans Le Ciel (from Gold Regen)
2. Autoportrait Rembrandt Mit Viktoria + Apache
3. Synthesizer Leiser (from Rembrandt: God Strikes Back)
4. Notre Dame
5. Intro

Year of the Tiger shows la! NEU? becoming something NEW. If Zeeland and Gold Regen were still NEU! but in a drastically different / reimagined format, Year of the Tiger is a truly unique beast, where the rolling hills have been smoothed into perfect flatness. Its two 30+ minute epics (“Autoportrait” and “Notre Dame”) are unlike anything else in the Dinger canon, and, once absorbed, will engrave themselves permanently into your soul. The remaining tracks are akin to satellites orbiting gas giants, bringing the scale of the behemoths into clearer focus.

“Comme Nuages Dans Le Ciel” begins with the sound of a harmonium filling the room – rising, becoming progressively richer in tone, rounding out your speakers (the ones you scraped to buy, because you still believe in Art). VW starts to purr in French, and despite taking French for three years in high school you can’t really figure out what she’s saying but it sounds nice, like a lullaby your mom used to sing to you, and the harmonium feels like the warm placenta you were bathed in as a fetus, and you realize that you are still in your mother’s womb, and she is singing to you from the outside, her external voice resonating within the womb, and you can feel her hand tapping the edge of your reality, pressing in. And as you try to reach out with your feet to kick this external force, your mom raises her voice a bit in recognition, before continuing on… And then the final echoes – the first contractions…

…symbolized by tape edits, distortions of sound… Amidst the hanging tension, “Autoportrait” cuts at right angles across the room, with Rembrandt’s piano in the lower right corner, plodding away in his typical Gold Regen style (4). Then the sounds of storm clouds. Followed by the introduction of Dinger’s beat – here called Apache – heralding the birth of time. The first moments of awareness outside the womb. When you were born, were you ready for it? Or would you have preferred to delay the experience a little bit longer, to get better prepared?

You take in your new reality. KD is on drums, but playing much more minimalistic than usual. There is a slight pause as Dinger readjusts his grip on the sticks, then straight lines unto eternity. The road is not one of hills and curves, but plains, flat and straight for as long as the eye can see. The only variations in speed are in the airplanes overhead. It sounds like KD is playing on top of a sample, overdubbing his drumming. While Rembrandt slightly works the keyboards, and VW, as usual, channels something. Here she assumes the guise of a hissing cat, fur standing up on its back.

The full name for this track is “Autoportrait Rembrandt Mit Viktoria + Apache.” The title represents the fulfillment of Dinger’s prediction made in “Hero ‘96” – that the “Indians come back, someday.” Listening to Autoportrait in 2016, it’s easy to wonder if the planes in the song are foreshadowing the events of 9/11. Or are they in fact hinting at an alternate reality, where 9/11 never happened? Reminding us of the unfulfilled potential that existed before 9/11; before our “leaders” found their needed excuse to bring us to this dystopian nightmare. But just like the Native Americans who have waited centuries for a reversal of the “Enlightenment” – knowing that ultimately, time is on their side – we, too, shall come back.

Once when I played this track in a shared apartment, my other flatmates complained: “It’s the same beat for half an hour!” Actually, they weren’t listening closely enough. The drumming changes at the 23 minute mark. Followed by more airplanes and a new sample. And then the sound of spring. Life is coming back. No matter what Clinton, Cameron, Hollande & Co. have planned, humanity will return. Their Orwellian dream – a boot stomping on your face for eternity – is nothing more than their unobtainable wet-dream. In the lounge durée of humanity, their shtick has revealed itself to be utterly pathetic. Goodbye Cheney, Sarkozy & Blair. This is the dawning of a new era & you are so 20th century.

VW moans with the assurance of someone who has taken acid and discovered Eden for the first time. The drums kick in again for a few bars and then they stop. Apparently everything has been said. We are at the post-Cha Cha 2000 world. Where we have solved the paradox of Dasein and returned to our authentic (and collective) selves.

Next is the only Rembrandt track from his God Strikes Back CD that is any good. Slow building keyboards with an occasional drum beat. It fits in well with the album, and sounds like it could be KD drumming. Mostly, though, it’s just a linking piece between titans. (Or a chance to go pee.) Having two 30-minute tracks in a row is too much; the audience needs a breather. “Synthesizer Leiser” is the four minute intermission.

Then a sudden tape edit, onto a fumbling intro, and then another edit, like you heard a snippet of the demo followed by the “real” song. The reintroduction of Spinello, last heard on Dinger’s mid-80s political albums, Neondian and Blue. Here VW speaks intelligible words for a change: “Notre Dame” (5). What is the role of the cathedral to Western culture? Is Notre Dame the Christian equivalent to Stonehenge? While it’s easy to dismiss Notre Dame for its repressive Christianity, what about the idea that motivated its building in the first place? Once we lose the pretense, a two-century construction project in honor of a man-made god is just a roundabout way of honoring humanity itself. Let’s reclaim Notre Dame for what it is: a testament to human vision and unswerving loyalty to The Trip. We will no doubt need similar commitment to fix the mess we’re in.

True to KD’s architectural roots, the drums creep up every crevice and pillar, while recorded sound effects replay the spoken dialogue of a family outing, perhaps the outing that is depicted on the back cover. Reminding us again of the potential within every moment, the potential that only can be brought about through organized, collective endeavor.

Notre Dame stands as the after-effects of a Great Idea. Is every great idea destined to turn into its repressive opposite? Do we see in Notre Dame a foreshadowing of the genocide of the Native Americans? Was Western culture evil from the get go? At what time did the West become the World’s enemy?

The return of dialogue from the family outing (bringing to mind the dialogue that accompanied the rowing on the first NEU! album), suggests that within the family, within the basic bonds which connect us as individuals, there is a kernel of truth, a value worth maintaining. Somewhere along the line that has been corrupted. We need to get it back.

Karl Marx said the history of humanity is the history of class struggle. Although the category of “class” no longer seems relevant for our post-Fordist world, Marx’s general spirit of continued resistance toward oppression rings true. Humanity has never been beaten down into complete submission. Humanity comes into existence, humanity defines itself, by its striving for collective improvement. Notre Dame represents the slow but sure march of human betterment. Sure the greedheads are impressive now, but wait a hundred years, who will remember them then?

And then VW starts to sing in English around the 28 minute mark – “it’s like you, to touch my thigh (?)” – the basic sexual attraction which propels human existence, which motivates people to do anything. If I can’t fuck you in person then I will create a monument that makes you wish that it happened.

Actually, the construction of Notre Dame itself is just a blip on humanity’s march, as was the construction of Stonehenge, the pyramids, and Angkor Wat. There is an unstoppable rhythm to humanity’s advancement (perhaps propelled by currents of ley lines?) and even if they find out that Atlantis existed and humanity was once even more “advanced” than it is now, so what? The collective struggle for life, for breath, for the chance to reproduce, that’s what’s important.

Dinger’s guitar adds a brief melody at 30 minutes, followed by a return of spoken dialogue before fading out. What has the experience of listening to Notre Dame taught you? What has the experience of creating Notre Dame the song taught its participants? What did the builders of Notre Dame think as they were making their monument?

…and then a brief punkish 1-minute take – on what? It’s hard to classify. Originally an “Intro,” but it works better as an outro, to wake you up from your contemplation for the realities / hassles of the everyday. A bass, guitar, and drums – someone with an ugly voice yells “neu” while VW moans in the background. An advertisement for the concomitant Blue Point Underground album, or a foretaste of unreleased materials? After a minute it’s all gone, the ugly voice going “so so so—” echoed into eternity. So what? That’s the ultimate / unanswerable existential question, isn’t it? (6)

What makes Year of the Tiger so special in the Dinger canon is that, unlike most of his work that exists in the present reality and advocates for collective change (Cha Cha 2000 whatever version), Year of the Tiger exists in a future reality, a post-Cha Cha 2000 reality, where we have already achieved such change, and the band is making a backward-looking sonic document to encourage humanity’s forward march. Year of the Tiger is a postcard from our collective future, inviting us to hurry up and get there.

The next year of the tiger will be 2022. Maybe we will have arrived by then?

1. The cover is a postcard from a fan named “George,” sent from Cambridge, MA. On the postcard’s back are three canceled Harry S. Truman stamps, visually symbolizing the “canceling out” of US imperialism (which came into full bloom with Truman’s reign). George’s postcard, like the taped message by a fan which appears on the Live in Tokyo Vol. 2 CD, or the letter inside the NEU! ’72 Live! in Düsseldorf CD, reflects Dinger’s attempt to bypass the music industry and mediation of the commercial press to create what was – in the largely pre-internet days of the late 90s – a more immediate relationship between fans and their artist/hero.

2. The offending releases being Rembrandt, Die With Dignity, Blue Point Underground, and Blue. Dinger only serves as producer / consultant for the first three; Blue on the other hand is an unreleased Dinger album from ’87 that is actually quite good, but shouldn’t be mistaken as la! NEU?

3. As should be apparent by now, my engagement with Dinger’s post La Düsseldorf work involves considerable editing and the creation of an alternative mythology; hence, when I refer to “Zeeland,” “Gold Regen,” etc., I am referring to my edits of these works, not how they appeared in “reality.”

4. When engaging Year of the Tiger I suggest you listen to Gold Regen first, as they were released / recorded at the same time, but GR was graced with the earlier catalog #.

5. Another, and arguably better, version of Notre Dame appears on the Live at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf CD.

6. Given that la! NEU? was obviously so inspired, why did they quit? Rumors abound that Rother demanded the name be retired as a precondition for the NEU! reissues. While that may have been a factor, my own view is that Dinger allowed himself to get distracted by the potential of “real success” and, instead of continuing to release cheaply made albums, got bogged down in endless discussions over lucrative NEU! / La Düsseldorf reformations that never took place. In any case, one can hope that the clumsily titled “Klaus Dinger + Japandorf – Live 2000 Pre-Japandorf” album, if ever released, will feature a continuation of the loose and quick la! NEU? aesthetic.

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