Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Einstürzende Neubauten - Kollaps

Kollaps (1981) ***

Einstürzende Neubauten's entire career may be charitably described as attempting to answer the age-old sophomore-level collegiate philosophical question, "Does a caveman's banging of two rocks together actually constitute music?"  The three star rating assigned above is a token gesture on my part towards the ideal of a consistent numerical rating system, as this album is ineffably unrateable, because this album does not in any traditional sense contain music.  Music, as can be defined, is a progression of a series of notes in a repetitive, harmonic pattern to produce a melodic construct that we refer to as a tune.  Einstürzende Neubauten will have none of that sissy-ass pop sellout crap.  I am not in any sense exaggerating when I say that this album consists of nothing but banging and screaming.  I know, I said that about KISS albums, too, but at least they played notes.  There is one brief interlude with a (gasp!) piano that could almost be described as a ballad, but the fingers just keep banging away at two keys over and over for over a minute, so it's not exactly what I would describe as musical or anything.  Despite the in-your-face, defiant unmusicality on display, there's a perverse pleasure in listening to this - in limited doses, and perhaps only once every year (four or five years, depending on your tolerance).  It's extremely rhythmic; it's not just random noise, it's structured noise, and the beats flow in traditionally recognizable pattern.  So if you can elevate tribal drumbeating and chanting to the aesthetic level of music, surely you can find room for Einstürzende Neubauten alongside Mozart and Thin Lizzy?  Maybe, but this sure ain't music for dancing, recognizably rhythmic as it may be.  Nobody dances to the clanging of steel pipes, electric drills, hammers on sheet metal, cement mixers, and god knows what else they employ to lay down a rhythmic pattern.  As for the electronically treated screams that constitute the album's vocals, I think it's better that I do not understand German, since that means the screams register as incomprehensible, sub-human animal noises - like Hitler's speeches without subtitles on the History channel.  I'm pretty sure that whatever vocalist Blixa Bargeld is screeching on the opening track, "Tanz Debil," is a real word in German, but it sounds like "Gee-ah!  Gee-ah!  GEE-AH!" (hard G) to my ears, and I'm all the happier for it.  As for reviewing this album track by track, that is frankly impossible.  Oh sure, the, uh, "songs" sound different from each other, but  they're all just.....clanging, banging, and screaming.  Asking me to elucidate further on individual tracks would sorely test my, or any sane person's, patience.  The title track does stand out because at eight minutes, it's the longest.  And "Negative Nein," vaguely shares a, um, "hook" with the Beatles' "Revolution #9" in the way that Bargeld shouts "nein...nein....nein?" several times.

I suppose the best way to "enjoy" this album is to treat it like an Eno ambient: that is, it's not for listening, it's for sticking in the background as cool noise while you're cleaning house, playing a video game, reading the newspaper, whatever.  And it's not as if there aren't a lot of cool noises.  This album is filled with neat sound effects!  But wouldn't it be better if some of those cool noises were put in the service of some actual songs, as later industrial bands did?  (And allegedly Einstürzende Neubauten themselves on later albums, which I have yet to hear - if ever).  It's a landmark of modern industrial music, enormously influential and revolutionary, blah blah blah, but c'mon, it's 2010.  You listen to this once as a historical curiousity, and then shelve it away.  I can't see why any sane person would willingly listen to it more than once; getting to the end all in one sitting is enough of a struggle in itself. To paraphrase Voltaire in another context, to try it once is curiousity, to try it twice is perversity.

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