396. Kraftwerk - Die Mensch-Maschine (The Man-Machine) (1978)
1. Die Roboter
6. Die Mensch-Maschine
As I had stated earlier with Trans-Europa Express I am diverting slightly from the list by reviewing the original version of the album instead of the one for Anglo consumption. That said this was one of the first tapes that I had as a child. I think I was born geekish and the electronic sounds as well as the words of the music fascinated me to no end by the age of 9. There were robots, space labs, neon lights... the version I had was the English one, but no problem. It fascinated me.
Now it still does, it is a sound of a future that never happened and never will happen. It sounds like a future where, much like you can see in the cover, the USSR would have taken over, still a possibility in 78. So I find this album to be a fascinating exercise in alternate history really. And this has always fascinated me.
But then this future did happen in a way, the music here has been so widely influential that it is hard not to see strains of this album, the most popular of all Kraftwerkisms, in most electric music to follow, from whatever musical genre. This is perfect production attached to genius musicianship and some of the most brilliant minimalism, linked to one of the best concepts for an album ever and one of the greatest cover artworks. So there.
This album, and Karl Klefisch's cover design in particular (which featured photography by Günther Fröhling), led some critics to accuse the band of experimenting with fascist or totalitarian imagery. The use of red and various Russian phrases, with a design based on the work of Soviet artist El Lissitzky, actually suggests an attempt to reference a broader spectrum of pre-war Socialist and Constructivist art. Nonetheless, Kraftwerk's choice certainly struck some sour chords in cold-war Europe.
Communist imagery of the inter-war period of the twentieth century used limited production techniques (hampered by limited supply of inks and primitive printing processes) and so they ended up with a distinct, orange/red, black and white colour scheme with sharp lines and blocky shapes. This technique gave a cold, brash and brassy look to the work. Combined with the agitprop messages of socialistic eastern bloc countries, the imagery had power to it. Accordingly, some viewed Kraftwerk's choice of art as incendiary; but to a German writing music it evoked exactly the cold/hard/machine-like monotony that their very music conjures. In this regard, there was nothing totalitarian in it to Kraftwerk – it was merely a post-modern reference to imagery that supported the music's modernist aesthetic.