A year has passed since the 1977 release of Trans Europe Express. We are now up to 1978 and its time for The Man.Machine.
The robots is quite an iconic song, coming from as time when robots were still considered futuristic and given Kraftwerk love of robots and automation, this is the title that a lot of people associate with the total Kraftwerk image. From the opening few notes, or should that be sounds? It’s apparent that Kraftwerk sound had moved on a bit. Another year and more experience of pushing electronic sounds to the limit. Robots sounds are harsher, although still using analog equipment some of the patches have an almost digital edge to them previously unheard. The percussion parts had started to take on that more familiar sound and rhythm instead of previously when they had just taken more traditional drum machine sounds and rhythms, and the computerised, synthesised and vocoded voice had started to take over the vocal side. So overall a more electronic futuristic sound, which is probably just what they intended. I always get the impression that nothing is by accident with Kraftwerk. Apart from the recognisable tunes that run through this song there are also sequences of sounds that become almost an alternative to the melodies.
I like the way Kraftwerk start songs, you can’t complain that they use simple intros, listen to the start of Space Lab, it’s not your traditional song intro! Once started Space Lab uses a few similar Robots type sounds. They now sit in a more polished and completed arrangement of what is basically an instrumental track as the on vocal is the spoken and vocoded phrase “space lab” as the gliding melody takes the lead in this song. Flanging is also noticeable on the rhythm, something they started to use more on the last album.
Metropolis continues with the synthesised sound effects, again some quite punchy and harsh sounds. Almost sounding like a film sound track, then a sequencer and the rhythm track kick in. more than likely a tilt in the direction of the German film director Fritz Lang and his expressionist science fiction epic. In keeping with Space Lab this is really another instrumental as the only lyrics again are the title Metropolis with the synthesisers taking the lead melodies.
The Model takes Kraftwerk perspective and writes it all the top of a more traditional pop song, I guess that makes it more accessible to the common public putting what they can do into a more recognisable verse chorus structure. Roll it all together and you get a number one hit! You can hear a more refined sound taking place, gone are the harsh and striking sounds on the first three tracks of the album and we are almost into the territory of sugar coated synthesis. If you want to impress newcomers with the world of Kraftwerk this is the song you play them. Wirth noticing is the little trick that Kraftwerk do, that has become more apparent with every listen to The Man.Machine album and that is if you want to sound like Kraftwerk, play a melody and ten play a repetition of the melody an octave higher on the keyboard.
Neon Lights continues where The Model left off, in so much as it’s a more familiar song, in structure with its verse chorus arrangement and in its choice of sound, which is more along the lines of Jon and Vangelis. Kraftwerk in ballad mode. Overall though quite a soothing and listenable tune, still enough Kraftwerk stuff going on it though. Pleasant I think would be my best describing word and towards the end you can see where the ideas for future stuff was going to as it gets almost trancey and dare I say hypnotic.
The title track of the album is The Man.Machine, the sixth and final track and resorts back more to the main theme using shorter pulses of harsher more digital sounding. Back in are the unusual but brilliant sound creations that I can best describe as effects, but that doesn’t really seem to do them justice. Vocoded lyrics proclaim Man.Machine, floating up and over electronic pulses of beats and sounds and all manner of electronic output.
So there you have it six songs and an automated semi-automatic future, Kraftwerk move on from Trans Europe Express with the ability to now produce harsher sounds, stranger effects and more extreme rhythms and computer voices, oh and they now know how to do a pop song, where will they chose to go next?