It's hard to praise Kraftwerk too extensively. In the grand scheme of electronic beat music, they started it all and are rightly revered -- and sometimes criminally overlooked. Peaking in the early '80s, Kraftwerk passed the baton years ago to hip hop, synthpop and techno, among other things, but they remain highly relevant today, despite a pittance of output relegated to best-ofs and remix collections. Tour De France Soundtracks
is a mighty return for the Germans. Their first bona fide album since 1986, Tour De France Soundtracks
was meant to coincide with Tour De France 2003, though it's said that the band's perfectionist bent delayed the full album enough to miss the event's initial kickoff (the spectacular single "Tour De France" was the sole track to make the deadline.). An album about a bike race? Hell, yes. Break the Tour De France down to its most basic parts and you have the synergy of a man and his machine. This concept has always been at the heart of Kraftwerk's music, and it's almost too obvious of a subject for our beloved pioneers...which makes it a perfect avenue for a comeback.
Tour De France Soundtracks can be taken in two ways. The uninitiated will have plenty to discover, though I'm not sure where Kraftwerk enters the picture for someone raised on the last 15 years of electronic music. It's possible that the first three tracks (all mixes of "Tour de France") will conjure nothing more than quirky but favorable images of Euro-trance, with kinetic arpeggiations and kick drum/high hat interplay. However, repeat listens will reveal the album to be much more than fodder for Paul Oakenfold; Kraftwerk's complexity can hardly be understood on the initial spin -- if ever. (I'm still wrapping my head around 1981's Computer World -- and loving it.)
Fans will appreciate Tour De France's high standard of unadorned synthesis, thematic melody and Autobahn minimalism, with epiphanic pleasure and not a little nostalgia. The familiar Kling Klang studio sound is there, squeezing funky pace out of repetitious mechanics and spine tingling vocoder use on tracks like "Aero Dynamik" and "Chrono", and artfully taking downtempo routes on the breezy "Vitamin" and "Elektro Kardiogramm".