[sic] Magazine

Kraftwerk – The Catalogue

Kraftwerk are perfectionists. There’s little reason you could justify a seventeen-year radio silence – punctuated only by an album of re-recordings, a single, and a handful of concerts – apart from a sonic perfectionism and a creative constipation coupled with a crisis of confidence. Hence, the long overdue release of ‘The Catalogue’: a comprehensive compendium of their album releases from 1973 to 2003 is finally due for release: only five years after the first batch of promos was released.

With typical minimalism (Minimum/Maximum to the last), there is just ONE ‘bonus’ track. Unlike the usual ‘remastering’ approach these digital remasters are not aimed at blowing your speakers out of the water and using your iPod as a sonic weapon – but at restoring the full dynamic range of the music lost in the original CD issues of the early 90’s: when CD mastering was a primitive art, few, if any cared for the music within, and the original releases were both quiet, variable, and had sloppy cue points and lazy errors. These CD’s are pristine: nary an example of clipping, glitching, unnecessary signal boost or the other afflictions of the pathetic, and annoying, Loudness War. They have been endlessly tweaked and remastered to ensure that the music within fully represents the sonic clarity of the original recordings.

These are not, by any means, faithful reproductions of the original vinyl records. From the off, these records are supposed to represent Kraftwerk’s original vision. Firstly this implies that the band were powerless in the face of their label, which is a nonsense as there has not been an officially sanctioned Kraftwerk compilation, ‘best of’, or rarities collection: such errata does not compute with the band’s fastidious and precise minimalism. The artwork has been modernised; insomuch as the original sleeves, often containing imagery of the band members in painted or photographic form, has been replaced. Band members are represented on the sleeves, but only in a computer replication, wireframe, or robotic form. All man has been replaced by the machine. The original sleeves for ‘Autobahn’, ‘Radioactivity’, ‘Trans Europe Express’ and ‘Man Machine’ have been replaced by equal, minimal, bold visual representations and imagery of the concise, almost childlike simplicity of a road sign. In some ways, this distorts the original release, but also makes the originals museum pieces of their time.

Box Set

As a representation of a body of work, ‘The Catalogue’ is a marvellous tribute. But it is also somewhat lacking. The surfeit of non album recordings issued on singles is absent; the original 1983 version of ‘Tour De France’, the reworkings of ‘Robotronik’, the leaked versions of ‘Techno-Pop’ and the 1991-era revamp of ‘Man Machine’, alongside numerous other intriguing oddities and alternate mixes are silently absent, deleted by the historians. As a representation of the complete work, it is therefore a significant failure. As a restoration of the albums, it is an artistically valid presentation.

Not only this, but ‘The Catalogue’ represents only a portion of Kraftwerk’s oeuvre: the first three studio records, never reissued since their vinyl printings in the Seventies, are under-rated gems of their time: albeit rather far away from the bands current work and mindset: ‘1’, ‘2’, and the sublime ‘Ralf And Florian’ are missing in action, alongside all the experimental, and unique music within as well as such classics as ‘Ruckzack’, ‘Tanzmusik’, and ‘Kling Klang’. They’re not here. These first few albums lack what the rest of the Catalogue contains: a central, and thematic concept that ties together the work musically and lyrically to create, like Kubrick, interpretations upon a theme and differing genres with each release.

The phrase ‘Techno Beatles’ is seriously errant: whereas The Beatles were inventive, wrote songs, and hopped off to communes, Kraftwerk were far more disciplined – they invented not just a genre, that of ‘Techno Pop’, but also a unique musical language that exists today – where simple was never stupid, where child-like wonder was not childish, where the strength of the work was reflected in a sonic pristine clarity, where melodies were uncomplicated, variant, and reflected the finest traditions of classic music, that is, interconnecting and interweaving themes and motifs, and where the sound itself was created using unique, home made sounds where the band were musical scientists exploring the hypothesis of sound.


‘The Catalogue’ is by no means comprehensive or complete, missing three studio records and the concert release ‘Minimum/Maximum’, as well as revised covers and a different running order and mixes for ‘Electric Cafe’. However, it is a lavish re-presentation and restatement of the established Kraftwerk canon of albums, and on that basis, it is certainly worth an investigation if you have not invested in Kraftwerk before.



For more from Mark, please visit The Final Word