The German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk had a robotic / futuristic city concept going on for their seventh album, Die Mensch-Maschine, which was released in 1978. The preciseness of the sounds is one of the reasons I like it. Every sound is considered and in its right place. The science fiction feel is another appealing element. Ralph Hütter was credited with ten different contributions on this album, in addition to jointly composing all the tracks. The other major player was the late Florian Schneider, followed by Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür.
- The Robots. ‘We’re functioning automatic / And we are dancing mechanic / We are the robots / We are the robots.’ Guaranteed to stay in my head all day, the robots are singing about how they are there to serve us, a tune filled with bleeps and other typically robotic noises. There’s a bit of Russian through a vocoder, which somehow makes it even cooler.
- Spacelab. That epic space sound is captured perfectly in this track. There aren’t any lyrics except for ‘space lab’ repeated occasionally. It begins with a kind of launch, getting faster and higher-pitched until the main theme kicks in. Somehow it manages to convey that sense of both awe and loneliness which I associate with outer space.
- Metropolis. The synths on this one remind me of old video game soundtracks (although of course it would really be the other way round). This one has a sort of ennui yet busyness which conveys the production-line feel of workers in a city, a nod to the Fritz Lang film Metropolis. The only lyric is the word ‘metropolis’ repeated.
- The Model. ‘She’s a model and she’s looking good / I’d like to take her home that’s understood / She plays hard to get, she smiles from time to time / It only takes a camera to change her mind.’ Definitely a pop song, this is one of Kraftwerk’s most famous. I’ve always thought the ‘model’ to refer to a product, like the robots, and not an actual woman.
- Neon Lights. ‘Neon lights / Shimmering neon lights / And at the fall of night / This city’s made of lights.’ A little slower-paced, this is a deceptively simple song which suggests how beautiful the urban landscape can be. There are some synth notes which shimmer to match the lyrics. It’s literally the lighter side of living in a metropolis.
- The Man-Machine. ‘Man Machine, pseudo human being / Man Machine, super human being.’ In the closing track, we’re with the robots again for a relentless mechanical-sounding tune. Bleeps, whirrings and a walking-pace rhythm suggest an army of robots quietly poised to take over the world. Who is superior – humans, or the super-humans they engineer?
My favourite is The Robots (check out the amusing, slightly sinister video), followed by Spacelab and Neon Lights.
Check out the previous posts in this series: The Beatles – Revolver and Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.