German electronic music group Kraftwerk made the future (and being a stiff robot) sound cool. Undeterred by the fact that now that we live in what used to be the future it doesn’t look all that cool Kraftwerk have just released something like a “best of” album in the form of a live album, which can only be recommended.
There’s something creepy about aging rock stars, and Kraftwerk are no exception. Typically, there’s very little dignity involved as rock stars age - just have a look at Lou Reed or Mick Jagger. It’s almost like rock-stardom is coming back to haunt those people: They used to be “cool” when they were young but, in the end, you really want to consider growing up some day. The members of Kraftwerk have been much more elusive than any of their peers, in fact little is known about them. But still. To imagine that people just short of the age of my parents (who are in their 60s) are dressing up like robots to then operate laptop computers “live” on stage… I think that is what has prevented me from going to one of their concerts.
This thought (plus the knowledge - courtesy of German newspapers - that the people whoo-hoo’ing during the classic Autobahn song on the average are ten years older than me) is what I have had to suppress while listening to the album. And even though I wanted to dislike the album - too much “Tour de France” stuff on it etc. - I just can’t. It’s just too good. Its sound is immaculate and more than just impressive, and even though you don’t get to see the robots in action (unless you click here) when I heard the Japanese audience sing (well “sing”) along during the Japanese part of “Pocket Calculator” - it can’t get any odder than that - I couldn’t help but think that Kraftwerk were really cool, and they still are - even though they could be my parents.
PS: You really want to get the German version of the album. Kraftwerk might be the only group ever whose songs sound better with German lyrics than with English ones. I’m glad Kraftwerk never considered changing the utterly surreal German used in “Numbers” - if you ever had to give a single example of how German could sound perfect, it’s the context of those robotic beats - which, interestingly enough, later were sampled heavily for early hiphop songs.