NEU! Neu! 75 (Brain)
Start burning those Stereolab albums, kids, because at last that Franglais ensemble have been rumbled as the two-bit chancers that they are. Put it this way, Stereolab seem to have based their entire career on the opening track from this album, the third and final long player released by the German duo of Michael Rother and one-time Kraftwerker Klaus Dinger during their brief five year partnership.
Its all there in the first few seconds of "Isi": the flat, metronomic drumming (very Mo Tucker), the heavenly ear for melody, the wheeze and creak of early synths and the elastic band twang of guitar. Over the space of six tracks Neu! go on to invent ambient, punk (those snotty yelling vocals on "Hero", the albums only weak track, crackle with Johnny Rotten nihilism) and the phasing so beloved of current dance acts like Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx, lobbing in the odd snatch of found sound (rainfall, birdsong) and backwards tapes en route.
Much like The Velvet Underground or Big Star, its taken twenty years or more for the works of Neu! to bubble up into the mainstream, but that shouldnt hinder your enjoyment of a genuinely fine album (much of which found its way onto Neu!s "Black Forest Gateau" compilation). If nothing else, it points to where the in sound from way out really came from.NEU! Neu! (Grönland/Universal/EMI Electrola)
NEU! Neu! 2 (Grönland/Universal/EMI Electrola)
Even if their intentions were no more honourable than some twisted desire to flog a few albums to teeny Radiohead obsessives in the aftermath of that group's newer, bleepier directions in music (apparently Thom Yorke contributes booklet notes to the CD versions: owning the annotation-free coloured vinyl equivalents I'm in no position to confirm this) EMI's decision to reissue the entire Neu! back catalogue is a laudable one. Despite the fact that the datestamp suggests the debut album by Dusseldorf-based Kraftwerk escapee Klaus Dinger and his companion in sound Michael Rother is nearly thirty years old the undercurrents of Neu!-ness that still fade away and radiate through 21st century alt-rock means that even today their music arrives vacuum packed for freshness.
The ten minutes and seven seconds of opening track "Hallo Gallo" contain just about every idea Stereolab have ever had (and will ever have, come to think of it), with the possible exception of the occasional fairy dusting of drum 'n' bass or loungecore that band's stolid photocopying of Neu!-music has occasionally benefitted from. It sounds like the reinvention and rebuilding of rock 'n' roll from the ground up: this, remember, was during rock's Jurassic age, when the coolest things you could do on stage were throwing knives at your keyboard or dressing up as a flower, and a band's music was considered juvenile unless its songs were subdivided into suites of many parts and boasted both a fantastical concept, preferably half-inched from Eastern religion or a children's book, and the statutory three week Mellotron solo. Neu!'s music almost totally rejected melody, a concept that was, at the time, close to collapse under its own preposterousness, in favour of primal, naked rhythms of a primitiveness rarely heard since the early days of rock 'n' roll. In terms of savagely skewering the accepted fashions of the day it surely ranks alongside the earlier work of Captain Beefheart, the contemporary assault of Atari Teenage Riot and Squarepusher's impish mischievousness.
The album then travels even further out on its odyssey of invention and discovery. Some tracks seemingly consist of little more than random scraping sounds, whilst extracts of audio verite are woven into the fabric - for example recordings of a boating trip and roadworks. In fact, in a post-modernist nod that I suspect Neu! might wryly appreciate, the track "Negativland" would be heard many years later pootling away in the background on Sonic Youth offshoot Ciccone Youth's self-explanatory "Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu!". The whole is executed with the cool Teutonic alienation that would later be more internationally typified by the works of Dinger's previous group.
Whilst you might not be able to hum any of the tunes on the way in you'll surely recognise a kinship with the music of Bowie's Berlin era, early Eno, the raging instrumentals on Julian Cope's finest 70 minutes, "Jehovahkill" (Cope being a paid-in-full Neu! enthusiast who has, quite literally, written the book on Krautrock), and, by association and example, Kraftwerk, and consequently just about every form of electronica from "Planet Rock" to "Kid A". Whew! Which should be sufficient to make Neu!'s debut long player a worthy candidate for your time and trouble.
Their second album, originally released in 1973, begins in a similar style, with "Für Immer" arriving as eleven peerless minutes of slowly revolving, metronomic Krautrock, before ambling through the familiar experimental avenues of found sound and phasing. But the overall feel of the album is diminished somehow: we're not dealing with the shock of the new anymore, and this time around Neu! seem to be relying on the same tricks to lesser effect. These vague feelings of déjà vu and disappointment are compounded by the contents of the second side: having exhausted the recording budget long before an album's worth of material had been marshalled, the band filled some of the available space by playing both sides of their recent "Neuschnee/Super" single at 16 and 78 r.p.m., an idea that cunningly presaged the speed-shifting techniques DJs would employ decades later when playing records had become the new rock 'n' roll. "Cassetto" and "Hallo Excentrico!" were further homemades constructed presumably using cassettes and woozily off-centre vinyl pressings respectively. Nevertheless the album ends rousingly with the original version of "Super", a wordless pre-punk rant that pointed to the noisier, more abrasive direction Neu! would explore when they reconvened to record their, so far, final work, "Neu! 75".