Kraftwerk are, of course, hailed as the pioneers whose influence covers every electronic music genre from trance to electroclash. Since appearing in the ’70s with model doppelgangers and a collection of synths, they’ve been making clipped, clinical sounds to a wildly loyal fanbase and, despite not releasing an album for well over a decade, their fans show no sign of deserting them.
Tour De France Soundtracks sees just two of the original four of Dusseldorf’s finest line up behind their machines – Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider are now joined by Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz. And though the Tour De France is over, it’s immediately clear that future events have their perfect soundtrack here.
Tour De France Etapes 1-3 are largely variations of the same piece and weigh in collectively at over 18 minutes of vocoded voices, clipped pulse rhythms and delightful bleeps and bloops – showing that the instruments may have radically changed since Kraftwerk’s debut but the thinking behind music making has not. These three tracks and what follows sound quintessentially Kraftwerk, even if the overall sound is necessarily tinged with modernity. There’s still room left for some older analogue sounds to interrupt as the record plays – and that’s a very good thing.
They were always a group who did things ahead of their time, and time has clearly caught up with them. Parts of this record wouldn’t sound out of place on a Gat Decor or even Richie Hawtin compilation – Aero Dynamik in particular is chock full of such hallmarks. Hawtin’s pulse rhythms could have been taken straight from a Kraftwerk record, so the similarity is less of a surprise than it sounds.
Elektro Kardiogramm isn’t a million miles from a stab at humour – they may be Teutonic, but let’s not assume they can’t smile occasionally. It ticks along at a pace made for drunk people to do robot impersonations to. Where it and every other track differ from previous albums is the lack of unvocodered voices – there’s no Showroom Dummies or The Model here with German-accented English words, just computerised French words. If a criticism was to be made, it would be that there’s a great deal of the same voice effect throughout, save for some spoken vocals on the very last track, and it could do with more variation.
But when the album finishes on Tour De France, with a rhythm of cyclists exerting themselves over a wonderfully optimistic, sparkling synth backing, who cares. It’s a great album, and it’s great to have Kraftwerk back. Let’s hope they don’t take another decade to make a follow-up.