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2023 Albums Thing 219 - Kraftwerk “The Man-Machine”

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The German music that I listen to most is that of Kraftwerk and Rammstein. One viewed as a cold, robotic, emotionless ensemble, the other as making brash, loud, hellscapes of sound from some Thunderdome style fiery, dystopian future. I find both to be making music with a wicked sense of humour.

C’mon…d’ya think Rammstein aren’t sitting around thinking up the most ridiculous things they can do with fire (flame throwing guitars, face masks and Angels wings, cooking the keyboard player in a huge pot FFS) and having a good laugh about it ? Likewise you don’t think Kraftwerk weren’t wetting themselves about the idea of sending some showroom dummies out to sing “We Are The Robots” while they sat backstage and we paid to watch it ? Those pesky Germans do like a laugh after all.

“The Man-Machine” (or “Die Mensch-Maschine” as they were now releasing German and English versions of their records) refines the sound developed on “Trans-Europe Express” and makes it more robotic yet more danceable at the same time. It is home to their best known song, “The Model” (“Das Model”). Although this album was released in 1978, in 1981 to promote the album “Computer World” (“Computerwelt”, you can thank us for the German lesson later) “The Model” was released as the B-side of the single “Computer Love” and that reached #36 in the UK chart. Later that year it was re-promoted in a new picture sleeve (red instead of the original releases yellow) with “The Model” designated as the A-side (although as EMI used leftover copies of the original release, they just changed the picture sleeves, the label still had “The Model” as the B-side) and it went to #1 in February 1982.

“The Robots” sets the scene for what is to come. It’s one of Kraftwerk’s signature songs. The vocals are very affected to give a robotic feel that the music completely supports. That sense of humour is there in the lyrics too


We're functioning automatic

And we are dancing mechanic

We are the robots

Now if you don’t think that’s funny, well…there’s a section spoken in Russian and the slogan “We are the robots” is repeated over and over, giving a feeling that maybe the robots aren’t so clever after all, or are they ?

“Spacelab” and “Metropolis” are two (almost) instrumentals. “Spacelab” very much has the feel of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” about it, although with less soul and more robot but just as much dancefloor about it. Like “Spacelab”, “Metropolis” only lyrics is the title repeated.

“Neon Lights” is about as close to a ballad as Kraftwerk are likely to get and the title track brings things to a close with another of those almost instrumentals based a simple repeating figure and the ominous lyric

Man Machine, pseudo human being

Man Machine, super human being

This album was recorded and released in 1978. It sounds fantastic, way ahead of its time production wise. I’d wager every synth-popper of the 80’s knows it intimately and most certainly owes Kraftwerk a huge debt for giving them a career.

The Robots - https://youtu.be/SaoBbCC66I4?si=2USCw2vffi7iTYEJ

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