Every Home Should Have One
By: Richard Clews
Kraftwerk’s The Catalogue seems rather perverse at first glance. The band best known for giving voice to computers and robots, and using electronic beats to recreate the mechanical pulse of cars and high speed trains, have entombed their collected output in an outdated artifact. Why should the music that kept Detroit’s ‘wheels of steel’ spinning be placed in a box you might find for sale in a pretentious art gallery store?
The reason is that the Kraftwerk concept is much broader than has often been presented. Robots, trains and bicycles are the elements, not the totality, of the musical and visual landscape that Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider set out to create. The ‘look’ of Kraftwerk – the neon lights, smart suits and album graphics – is as crucial as the sound.
Inside the sturdy cardboard packaging is a sleeve containing 12-inch booklets for each album. The reproduction quality is first-rate, the bold colours of artist Emil Schult’s graphics fully restored. Period photographs of the band help to ensure that former members Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur are not consigned to history. The albums themselves come in mini-vinyl sleeves, with new cover images to give a more consistent look to the collection.
The audio quality is, thankfully, archetypal Kraftwerk – pristine. The remasters keep the patina of the old mixers, mics and tape, but lose the hiss, lack of bass and occasional ‘glassy’ sonics of the original CDs. The remasters are cleaner without sounding de-hissed to death. The most dramatic improvements can be heard on the earliest albums, Autobahn and Radio-Activity. The former always suffered by comparison with later releases, but here the energy of Kraftwerk’s playing and the ethereal atmospheres created by Conny Plank more than compensate for the rough edges.
There are some important changes to note: Electric Café has reverted to its original title, Techno Pop, and alongside the change of title is a change to the content. ‘The Telephone Call’ – Karl Bartos’ finest hour with the band – features here in its seven-inch version, replacing the longer mix on the first issue. It is immediately followed by "House Phone", a curiously charmless "house" restyling that was included on the "Telephone Call" twelve-inch.
Tour de France Soundtracks is now Tour de France, but the original song from 1983 is not included as a bonus. Hopefully, when the new album is complete – allowing for Kraftwerk’s elastic time schedule – a complete collection of remixes, single versions and out-takes might be compiled. It would be the logical next step, as the classic Kraftwerk albums have now been done full justice.