Monday, February 22, 2010

Oreilles Gauloises (Comfort Part II/Krautrock Edition) - Computer World (Kraftwerk)

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about bands and albums that provide me comfort when my mind is troubled or preoccupied, and I focused then on Stereolab's Mars Audiac Quintet album, and Laetitia Sadier's soothing voice. This week, I want to talk about another one of those "comfort" bands: Germany's Kraftwerk, and my favorite album of theirs, 1981's Computer World.

I think the first time I heard Kraftwerk's music was in the late 70's, when they actually got some radio airplay in Europe with "The Model", a track from their 1978 album The Man-Machine. Their music didn't really make much of an impact on me until 1983, when my high school friend Chris Duhamel played me their single "Tour de France", which I thought was fantastic. Since then, I've acquired all of their albums, which are all great in their own different way, but for me the one that really sums up the essence of the band and their music is Computer World; it is also in my opinion the best album with the "classic" line-up of Ralph Hütter, Florian Schneider, Wolfgang Flür, and Karl Bartos.

I absolutely love everything about this album: the synthesizer melodies of songs like "Computer World", "Pocket Calculator" and "Computer Love" (which was used by the band Coldplay in their song "Talk" on the abum X&Z); the simple counting in the lyrics of numbers in different languages, and listing of various institutions and industries that were then highly dependent on computers, demonstrating in simple terms the growing use and dominance of computer technology at the beginning of the 1980's; the amazing cover artwork depicting what was then a state-of-the-art computer terminal, with that wonderful yellow background; and last but not least, the use of computer-generated voices throughout the songs. Also of great importance, but often overlooked, is the masterful percussion work that maintains the mechanical and repetitive rhythmic feel of the music.

I think that the obvious "motorik" quality of Kraftwerk's music is probably what I find calming and soothing, and there was a period a couple of years ago when all I could listen to was this album. In a way, it may have provided me with some form of sonic order and serenity (with its repetitive and predictable beats) at a time in my life when I felt that things had become quite unpredictable, and were quickly getting out of my control.

Kraftwerk still continues to play today (with only one of its original members), and their sporadic concerts are historical events not to be missed.

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