Friday, August 23, 2013

Neu! - s/t

Neu! (1972) ***

An enormously influential, beyond ahead of its time album that is half unlistenable, and I mean that in the literal sense:  Neu!'s debut schizophrenically splits its six tracks between the OMIGOSH IMA GOBSMACKED and the WHAT THE HELL IS THIS CRAP?!  Let me break it down for you:

No. Title Length
1. "Hallogallo" (Play on "Halligalli", a German slang term for "wild partying", with the word "hallo" being German for "hello") - MAYBE I'M AMAZED, NO NO MAYBE, YES I AM! 10:07
2. "Sonderangebot" ("Special Offer") - POINTLESS FILLER BETWEEN THE MAIN COURSES 4:51
3. "Weissensee" ("White Sea" or "White Lake"; Weißensee is a town in Carinthia, Austria, and a borough of Pankow, Berlin) - SLOW AS SNAILS, STILL GROOVY-TASTIC, MAN! 6:46
Side two - Jahresübersicht
No. Title Length
4. "Jahresübersicht (Part One): Im Glück" ("Lucky") - WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SHIT 6:53
5. "Jahresübersicht (Part Two): Negativland" ("Negative Land") - HOLY MOTHER OF #@!$%!, THIS IS WHAT I CALL NEO-AMBIENT GUITAR SQUALL! 9:47
6. "Jahresübersicht (Part Three): Lieber Honig" ("Dear Honey" or "Preferably Honey") WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SHIT?  SERIOUSLY, DUDES.  YO MAN THIS SHIT BE WHACK YO, THAT'S LIKE THE GAYEST RETARDED VOCAL I'VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE.      7:18

Danke, Wikipedia.  Michael Rother (credited to guitar & bass) and Klaus Dinger (credited to guitar, drums, and something called "Japanese banjo", if such a thing even exists and was not an in-joke in the credits) split from an early version of Kraftwerk, reasoning given that the Krafts were insufficiently experimental.  And while being the first full-fledged synth-pop, guitar-less outfit made the Werks the most influential German band of the decade (do I need that 'German' modifier?), Neu! might've been equally hallowed if not for their brief, aborted three-album career.  According to lore, their debut was recorded in a scant four days in 1971, the first two proving fruitless - which goes a long way to explaining why they only came up with 3 good songs.   To squeeze its influence in as tight a nutshell as possible, this sounds like a vocal-less 154 era Wire or late '70s Joy Division (in retrospect, both extremely obviously influenced).  Neu!'s basic formula. introduced on the opening track, is to lay a bedrock of hypnotic rhythmic repetition, with its unvarying 'motorik' drumbeat and two-note bass riffs providing the musical center.  Overlaid are treated guitars that at times sound like synthesizers, floating in and out and around the mix, to keep the music varied enough so that you're hypnotized by the beat instead of bored by it for ten minutes.  The spare, minimalist textures of this completely instrumental work keep the album completely contemporary, no matter what decade it happens to be - tell some hipster that this is one of the latest post-rock albums on the critics' year-end list of 2012, and he'll fall over pretending that it's cutting edge; and in 2022 or 2042 as well, I'm wagering.  Context counts for quite a lot in pop music, however, and what could this music have been categorized as in 1972?  Post-psychedelic and mind-bending - not a partaker of hallucinogens, so I can only imagine just how good this has to sound on drugs, and I do not mean that as an insult.  Perhaps I'll experiment someday with a reefer.  (Listening to this album, I mean.  Like 92.635% of Americans, I've partaken of that.)  Yet its mechanical beats, squalling guitar noises, and the icy, impersonal to the point of inhuman feel point the way to industrial.  But it's hardly a hard-rocking album, for the most part - Neu! know the value of space in music, leaving large sonic potholes that give a number of tracks a peaceful, dreamy effect.  So there's proto-ambient and post-rock in the mix as well.  And while, according to the credits (your ears deceive you), there's not a synthesizer present, it certainly sounds like a pioneering synth-rock album, and its emphasis on tight, driving, ferociously monotonous-minded rhythm - well, free your ass and your mind will follow, that's late '70s disco, tisn't it?

To recap:  this would've been a classic for the three mind-blowing tracks.  But no matter how mind-expanding and influential those may be, the other half of the album is painfully obvious found-sound and dicking around the studio filler.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. However,I vehemetly disagree with your assessment of track 4. "Im Gluck" is a slice of eno-esque ambient goodness made at a time when the big E was wearing kimonos and glamming it up with Bryan Faery. Also, I think the album warrants 4 stars due to its influence alone (Bowie, Radiohead, Stereolab, etc. etc. etc.).