Kraftwerk: Tour De France Soundtracks

Kraftwerk: Tour De France Soundtracks

-

Kraftwerk

Album: Tour De France Soundtracks
Label: Astralwerks

Across a stretch of remarkable albums released in the '70s and early '80s, Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter (and a series of peripheral members) created a world in which mundane activities like riding on the highway or taking a train became the stuff of sprawling songs, and the uneasy relationship between humanity and technology became fodder for droning, entrancing pop. Then Schneider and Hütter disappeared and let everyone else live in their world. Foreseeing a coming age of "robot pop," Kraftwerk inspired and anticipated disco, new wave, and just about every form of electronic music, from the most challenging bedroom producer to Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin. But as hard as Kraftwerk tried to factor out the organic element, even making over its members as robots, the act never quite succeeded in masking the men behind the machines. An unmistakable sense of awe pushes songs like "Neon Lights," and the straight-faced humor behind the likes of "It's More Fun To Compute" has helped them endure. But after a long absence previously interrupted by a victory-lap tour and single in 1999, any new Kraftwerk album risks seeming like a footnote, especially when four of the disc's 12 tracks rework a 20-year-old song. But there's more to Tour De France Soundtracks than a simple remake of the past. First released in 1983, "Tour De France" was to have been the first single from the never-released Technopop, a plan interrupted, strangely enough, by Hütter's near-fatal bicycle accident. Of the four versions included here, only the album-closing final track resembles the original. The three new versions that open the disc (after a brief prologue) come sequenced together in a continuous, hypnotic mix that sounds like a fusion of classic Kraftwerk and a more contemporary beat. It would be an exaggeration to call it house-influenced, but it does seem to acknowledge the universe of house music, and for the 15 minutes in which a robo-distorted voice offers observations on cycling's main event, it puts a new spin on such creepy/lovely past epics as "Trans-Europe Express" and "Autobahn." The rest of the tracks sound like vintage oddities, and will probably be of more interest to old fans than new, although a track titled "Elektro Kardiogramm" raises an interesting question: Is it a continuation of Kraftwerk's concern with the relationship between humanity and technology, or just a sign that its members are getting up there in years? Whichever the case, Tour De France Soundtracks helps prove that even obsolescent robots can still have life in them.