Released 1972 on Brain
Reviewed by Serotonin, 21/10/2003ce

I think it was MOJO magazine used to have a feature entitled "Last Night a Record Changed My Life", in which various artists extolled the virtues of one particular album which truly did just that; perhaps inspiring them to pick up their instrument for the first time, maybe revolutionising the way they thought about the possibilities of popular music, or just had a jaw-dropping, Damascene effect on them through its sheer life-changing magnificence.

Michael Rother & Klaus Dinger's debut album might have arrived in my life a few years after I picked up the guitar, but it certainly did everything else described above for me. At the age of 17, after a few months discovering the early Kraftwerk records and reading up on just who this guitarist and drummer were on the mind-blowing bonus track that came at the end of Tone Float, I walked into the old Tower Records on Argyle Street in Glasgow (may it rest in peace; so many fond memories) and picked up the Germanofon CD of Neu!, excitedly scanning the track titles on my way to the cash desk to blow a criminally over-priced £17 on what I now know to be a shoddily-mastered bootleg.

Having not yet bothered to replace it with the legit Groenland CD, it's that bootleg disc that I'm still listening to at the moment six years later, having embarked on a period of rediscovery of what it was made me listen religiously to it every night for months on end when I first bought it. Oh, and what made me tell everyone I could about this amazing band "Noo"; it wasn't until last year that my fiancee, being more clued-up on German pronunciation, informed me that the proper way to say it was "Noy". Doh. Subsequently discovering Neu 2, and the little vocal loop at the start of "Super", I had to admit she was right. But anyhow, after spending the last couple of years in sheer amazement at the sublime beauty of Neu 75 and the anarchic mischieviousness of aforementioned 2nd album, I thought it was high time to get back to basics.

If you have a circle of music geek friends like I do, you'll no doubt have had a similar debate at some point: what's the single greatest guitar track ever recorded? I have one mate who swears it's Marquee Moon by Television; another who cites the Weld version of Neil Young's Like A Hurricane; yet another who lives by the solemn musical creed of Nick Drake's River Man. For me, that track is, and ever shall be, Hallogallo.

I once listened to this track on repeat for two hours to focus my mind whilst studying for my final school exams. On passing my driving test, in the cruelly brief period before epilepsy robbed me of my licence, Hallogallo soundtracked more car journeys than any other music I listened to. This morning I enjoyed a couple of spins through it whilst on a brisk October walk on my way to a doctors' appointment. But etched in my memory for all time, above and beyond all those other experiences, is the day I came home with the album after buying it, and put the first track on. It was everything I'd ever wanted to hear or imagined in my head. It had so little to it, it was utterly perfect. It was ten minutes without a single chord change but without a single microsecond of my attention wavering. And yes, it changed forever the way I perceive the possibilites of music, and my approach to guitar playing. This is completely nicked from a review I once read for some other album, but..... less is more, forever.

The second track, Sonderangebot, used to be the one I skipped most, largely due to its complete overshadowing by its precessor, but its shapeless, phased ambience is, I now think, perfectly placed on the album as a comedown from the epic driving pulse that has come before and as a lead-in to the beautiful Weissensee.

Weissensee, the closing track on Side 1 of this album, is another favourite, and the one I used to put on countless compilation tapes as a nice interlude. At 1:22 on Weissensee (may of course be a slightly different time for those of you with the legit CD), comes a big surprise: the first chord change on the album (and the second doesn't come until 4:06!). Having made the listener wait so long for that change, almost until the end of the first side of the record, Rother achieves the maximum impact possible with a chord change; it's an indescribable release of the tension built up by the monotone minimalism that you have just become accustomed to. Heck, it's just a gorgeous, gorgeous melodic piece of music, like so many Rother melodies, e.g. Neuschnee, Seeland, or any number of tunes from his early solo albums.

The second half of the album begins with Im Gluck, a track even more ambient and becalmed than Weissensee. It is introduced with a tape of soft conversation on a rowing boat, but then the balmy bliss of this river date is undercut by the slightly sinister, rhythmless guitar and sawing double-bass sounds creeping in. Some seagull sounds are suggested, perhaps created by a synthesiser, and then the main wah-guitar melody takes precedence. Towards the end we are lulled by the peaceful rowing sounds again, but we're in for a nasty shock.

Negitavland, the other epic, propulsive track on the album, is announced with the sudden sound of a pneumatic drill; over in Berlin, a young Blixa Bargeld must have been taking note. And Klaus Dinger had obviously kept a copy of the album that featured his recording debut, Kraftwerk's first album, and taken note of its jump-cuts of musique concrete and tight but sprawling varispeed jamming; this track often reminds listeners of early Kraftwerk tracks like Stratovarius and particularly the abraisive Vom Himmel Hoch, the very track that introduced Klaus Dinger as the ulitmate minimal, rock-solid drummer. Anyway, after lots of screaming phased guitar effects, Negativland settles into its hypnotic bass guitar riff, and the track falls apart, starts again, and slows and gallops towards its sudden cut-off ending (listening to Stratovarius again were we, Klaus?)

The album draws to a close with Lieber Honig, perhaps the most contentious and opinion-dividing track on the whole record. We are, for the first time, introduced, to Klaus Dinger's vocal, with only Rother's skeletal guitar progression for company until the sawing double-bass creeps in again (it really, really sounds more like a cello to me, but the Neuschnee website which I'm referring to to keep me right on basic album info only lists a double bass) and towards the end the rowing sounds from Im Gluck are reprised. This track is most contentious in that some listeners find Dinger's vocal a hoarse, unlistenable whine that was thought up in two seconds, included in the track as a joke and should never have been allowed to ruin the instrumental perfection of the rest of the album. Others, myself included, perceive it as an emotion-saturated, lovelorn plea on a par with Can's Yoo Doo Right (and Malcolm Mooney was certainly no opera singer either), or indeed, the more understated version of this idea that Neu! would go on to do, namely Leb Wohl. Lieber Honig might, I admit, break with the overall feel and form of the rest of the album, and Dinger has got a long way to go to become the vocal shaman of (IMHO) his life's greatest work, Cha Cha 2000, but I'd never take it off the album. I love it for what it is.

And I totally and utterly love this album. Oh, and Neu 2, Neu 75, La Dusseldorf, Viva, and Rother's first three solo LPs. Buy them all. Oh, and buy the first seven or so Cluster albums. And then you'll truly have experienced the four greatest, most unpretentious musicians of all time. Sorry, rant over.

Reviews Index