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Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum

Astralwerks, 2005

Rating: 4.5

 

Posted: June 16, 2005

By Laurence Station

Think of incredibly dated synthesizer-driven pop from the New Wave period of the 1980s. Recall, if you must, the cheesy synth-line from A Flock of Seagulls' ubiquitous "I Ran (So Far Away)." The inherent artificiality of processed music dates quickly for several reasons. A major cause is the technology, which, as with personal computers, advances so rapidly in terms of performance, size and affordability as to render earlier models obsolete. Another is the inability of most musicians to coax unique and enduring sounds from such non-traditional instruments. In short, it’s incredibly easy to make bad synthesized music.

And then there’s Kraftwerk, godfathers of the movement. After 35 years, several landmark albums in the evolution of electronic music, and incomparable influence (for both good and ill) across the genre, the Dusseldorf-originated band (founded by Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter and now including Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz) has more than left its mark. Which makes the arrival of the band’s first official live release such a special and welcome event.

Culled from 2004’s highly energized worldwide tour, Minimum-Maximum is a two-hour, two-disc set that emphatically validates just how fresh and alive Kraftwerk’s heavily manipulated compositions sound. What comes across most clearly is Kraftwerk’s unerring belief that humans and machines can co-exist harmoniously. And that desire to foster a copacetic synthesis between carbon-based life forms and artificial devices can be heard in every blip and digitized beat played.

The first disc leans toward more recent material, with “Planet of Visions” offering a groovier reconfiguration of “Expo 2000.” Despite not stacking up to the older works, there’s nonetheless great flow between the smooth revolutions of “Chrono,” which effortlessly gives way to the pumping energy of “Tour De France - Etape 2.” It’s when the sound of a car starting up and the familiar Moog-powered rhythm of “Autobahn” begin that Minimum-Maximum truly blasts into overdrive. Wisely offering a tighter, poppier variation on the original (offering more Beach Boy-esque “fahr'n fahr'n fahr'ns” than a hypnotically entrancing sojourn), Kraftwerk plays up the fun quotient while still elegantly conveying the joy of driving that ideally encapsulates the band’s worldview: the empowerment via mechanical means to feel something otherwise denied to humans.

Other highlights include a shorter, warmer version of “Neon Lights” and a masterful run on the second disc beginning with the jackhammer-intense beats of “Numbers” and closing with the appropriately titled, elastically stretched-out “Music Non Stop.” Minimum-Maximum reinforces just how forward thinking Schneider and Hütter were more than three decades ago, when the notion of “robot pop” must have sounded far out even during the indulgent, heavily experimental prog-rock era. Fast forward to the present, and not only were the two mainstays behind Kraftwerk spot-on with their notions of what modern music would sound like, but the music they’ve made still sounds futuristic and groundbreaking today. More importantly, it lives.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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