Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum

Kraftwerk: Minimum-Maximum

A live album by a group that went to inhuman lengths to move past things like "live albums" might seem like a paradox, but so is the continued relevance of Kraftwerk 35 years after its inception. As influential at the end of the day as any band ever, Kraftwerk seems to exist best at this point as an ideaâ€"a powerful touchstone whose actual music flags somewhere low on all the different poles it helped raise.

But then came the reunion, and stage shows that leave big audiences screaming at the sight of four androids swiveling in time to chants of "We are the robots!" It's enough to bring a mercurial tear to the eye, but the effect draws on more than nostalgiaâ€"Kraftwerk still sounds great, preserved in amber or not. Minimum-Maximum comprises 22 tracks from various Kraftwerk shows throughout 2004, collecting all the classics in versions that waver between faithful retreads and rebuffed updates. "The Man-Machine" opens with a wry vocoder gurgle, before tiny mechanized clicks and deceptively complex synthesizer figures assume their places in a line that stays straight to crooked ends. The Detroit techno adage about Kraftwerk being "so stiff they were funky" has become a big part of the group's legend, but that funk also comes from lots of blank space. The short staccato blasts of rhythm in "Trans-Europe Express" mimic the sounds of the title train, but they also hint at the silence they supplant.

Some of Kraftwerk's newer impulses don't court the same effectâ€"reworked versions of "Tour De France" and the 2004 single "Aerodynamik" answer dutifully to the colorful ripples and waves of dance-club trance. But there's still an understated sharpness to most of Minimum-Maximum, whether it's angling a new take on an ever-spooky hymn to radioactivity, or remembering when a pocket calculator was a mark of the future.

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