Twelve Years after their last release, a remix album with the unsurprising name “The Mix”, and exactly twenty years after the release of an EP called “Tour de France”, Kraftwerk’s new album, “Tour de France Soundtracks”, is out. There is a German saying “Der Berg kreisste, und es ward ein Mäuslein geboren” (“The mountain was pregnant, and a little mouse was born”) and this pretty much sums it all up quite nicely. Here we got our little mouse.
Of course, it’s a little bit unfair to write a review about the album. Kraftwerk are the pioneers of all kinds of electronic music, incl. techno, electroclash, and whatever else you have, and they released some of the most brilliant electronic music ever made. I don’t think anybody really expected anything as good as “Computerwelt”. And it would not be fair to compare “Tour de France Soundtracks” with it.
But then again, if you listen to the new album, after a while you start thinking that maybe you would want to do exactly that comparison because, after all, the new album sounds like vintage Kraftwerk. Or to be more precise like bad vintage Kraftwerk. Here and there, you can find traces of their musical genius. At the end of track 4, there is one of those melodies which in the past would have been a song of its own. Likewise, track 10 (or was it 11?) has another one. And the rhythms are programmed in the cool Kraftwerk fashion, that is incredibly precise and yet very non-monotonic at the same time.
However, these traces of earlier genius are buried in a lot of stuff which is not all that great (and that phrases it quite mildly). Take the first four tracks. They’re all versions of the same song, with only very minor modifications. Who needs that? And what’s worse, they’re bad variations of what originally was a pretty good song - which, to add to the sadness, they included as the last song of the CD. It’s “Tour de France”, of course. Originally quite a good song with a pretty melody it’s now some drab techno.
Once you’ve made it through the first four tracks - your remote actually is a good helper here (and you should only really listen to track 4) - there are a few more songs, new songs, none of which stands out as that great. They’re all very Kraftwerk and that’s basically what you can say about them.
It completely escapes me why they got rid of all those elements which made them so special, especially the slightly robotic singing and the nice melodies. Now, most of the stuff is sung in French (which simply doesn’t work and only sounds goofy), with the voices usually distorted by some pretty lame vocoder. It just sounds terrible. And you can’t make an album with two nice melodies where one isn’t even really used. Plus the aforementioned virtual identity of the first four tracks. Did they really spend more than ten years on this? That’s it? Ten years? Many hours a day (if you want to believe what they say in their rare interviews)? It seems they’ve lost their magic…