The Neu! Sound of Krautrock

Jun 12th, 2015 | By | Category: Reviews, Turning Points

neu-75By the time I discovered them, Neu! weren’t so neu no more.

Neu!, along with fellow Krautrockers Faust, were often mentioned in reviews of Spacemen 3 in the British music press of the late ’80s. At the time (and to some degree, still), I checked out any band favorably compared to The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth or Spacemen 3, so I began actively seeking anything I could find by Neu!

Sonic Boom claimed he was unaware of Neu! and Faust until he read those same comparisons I did. Upon finally hearing these bands, he allowed that he understood the comparison — all three bands often played very long songs built on repeated guitar figures — but he could not have been influenced by what he had never heard.*  The connection was in the reviewers’ minds, not his.

Which finally brings me to my point: We do not listen to a piece of new music in isolation. We compare it to and place it within the context of music we already know. So even though I was aware that, chronologically, Neu! preceded Spacemen 3, Spacemen 3 came first in my chronology.

In his excellent contribution to the 33 1/3 series, Scottish novelist Alan Warner explores his ongoing relationship with Tago Mago, an album by still another Krautrock band, Can (whom he sought out after a mention in a PiL-era interview with John Lydon).  In particular, Warner observes:

“I firmly believe our response to any canon is formed by the order which we first encounter it in. . . . You don’t experience such a non-specific generalization as ‘the work of Dickens/Dostoyevsky/Star Wars‘ in one mighty aesthetic gulp. It is a far more subtle, personal and complex encounter with a form.”

So to me, Neu!’s “Leb’ Wohl” sounded a whole lot like Spacemen 3’s “Let Me Down Gently,” even though the latter was released 14 years later. Both tunes are soothing lullabies that wash over soft, sleepy vocals. Neu! adds the calming sound of lapping waves to ease the listener to sleep.

In the late ’80s, the only Cluster recordings I knew were their collaborations with Brian Eno, but that was still enough for me to realize that Neu!’s elegiac “Seeland” sounded quite a bit like them. I later found out that Michael Rother had spent the time between Neu 2 and Neu! ’75 collaborating with Cluster’s Moebius and Roedelius in Harmonia.

As nice as these slow tunes are, like Spacemen 3, Neu! is far better known for its loud, noisy rockers. Side two opens with “Hero,” which could be the missing link between the Sex Pistols and PiL, especially the snarled, “Rotten” vocals. Someone who had heard this album when it was released in ’75 probably thought the Sex Pistols sounded like Neu! Me, I thought Neu! sounded like the Pistols.

Side-closer “After Eight” is just a noiser, more raucous version of “Hero.” Where “Hero” predicts punk, “After Eight” predicts the post-punk guitar skronk of Sonic Youth. (SY recorded an homage to the Krautrock band in their 1988 Ciccone Youth side project: “Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening to Neu!”)

But the first track of the album, the first track was something very new and different for me.  Sure, “Isi” is repetitive, like the music of many bands influenced by the Velvet Underground, but Neu! took a whole new approach. The metronomic drum and guitar — sorry, Meghan Trainor, no bass — rhythm track gave it a propulsive sound that was entirely new to me. Well, perhaps not entirely; I recognized the beat from Kraftwerk’s”Autobahn.” It sounded like the clacking sound made by speeding tires rolling over pavement joints on a highway, or autobahn. This was Krautrock’s legendary “motorik beat.”

That motorik beat, also heard here on “E-Musik,” went on to shape my concept of Krautrock as a genre. In my mind, it is what separates Krautrock bands from more generic German rock bands. The motorik beat became my key to unlocking Krautrock. It was what I looked for in the many other Krautrock bands I later tracked down, Faust, Can, Cluster, Harmonia, along with the earlier Neu! albums. As good as Neu!’s two earlier albums are, and “Hallogallo” on their first album is probably their best single track, ’75 is their best album, and one of the very best Krautrock albums, period.


* I really doubt Sonic Boom was being disingenuous, as he has always been very, very open about being influenced by numerous other bands, especially The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Suicide and Texas UA psychedelic bands like Red Crayola and 13th Floor Elevators, many of which Spacemen 3 covered.

Details:

  • Artist: Neu!
  • Title: Neu! ’75
  • Year of release: 1975
  • Year of first hearing by writer: 1989-1990?
  • Label of original release: Brain Records
  • Format listened to: CD
  • Track Listing
  • Purchase from Amazon: Neu! ’75

One Comment to “The Neu! Sound of Krautrock”

  1. Fabulous, influential band. Readers (and perhaps your good selves) might enjoy a bit more Neu!

    http://vinylconnection.com.au/2014/05/16/hello-hallogallo/

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