June 08, 2005

Kraftwerk "Minimum-Maximum"

Though live records are often a shady proposition, when it comes to certain artists, there's no question that a live record is essential. Artists like John Coltrane, the Grateful Dead and Elvis Presley definitely accomplished more in the live setting than they did in the studio, and live recordings serve as important documents of their brilliance. On the other hand, bands like The Ramones, the Beach Boys and Guided By Voices all made music that sounded great live, but their live shows didn't really differ much from their studio recordings.

Then there's Kraftwerk. This German groups role in modern music cannot be denied; their computerized music helped to redefine and innovate music, opening up new possibilities for sound, inspiring techo, electronica, dance music, pop music and even hip-hop. Even though their presence within the music world has been minimal, their influence has not ceased after thirty-five years. In 2003, the band released their first new album in well over a decade, which they then followed with a world tour. Minimum-Maximum is a two-disc souvenir of the band's touring, capturing the audio portion of the band's multimedia experience.

If you are familiar with Kraftwerk, then you probably already understand the fundamental flaw with a Kraftwerk live record. Kraftwerk's style is so regimented and streamlined, there's very little room for variation. Sonic perfectionists that they are, it's a foregone conclusion that their live performance would sound perfect (read: sound just like the studio versions). At times, Minimum-Maximum occasionally feels like a greatest-hits package. Of course, one shouldn't expect anything but the classic moments from a band that's been inactive for over twenty years, and the majority of the collection revisits Kraftwerk's best moments.

That being said, Minimum-Maximum is still an amazing record. Songs like "The Robots" and "Computer Love" and "Autobahn" never sound dated, because these songs are still ahead of their time. In the live setting, these classic songs sound even bigger than their studio counterparts; some songs, including "Radioactivity" and "Numbers" appear in radically different arrangements, updating them into something that sounds even more futuristic than before, and these rearranged songs deftly link their past with the present--a present that Kraftwerk definitely influenced. And, on the beautifully sung "The Model," the band even lets slip that they are indeed human, allowing for a rare moment that doesn't feel overtly computerized. There's also something wonderful about the sound of thousands of people applauding these four geniuses, as if somehow their presence makes the Kraftwerk legacy complete.

The only thing that could have made Minimum-Maximum even better would have been a DVD that captures the multimedia spectacle of Kraftwerk's live show--but I bet that's probably forthcoming. Minimum-Maximum is an excellent live document of these amazing innovators of modern music, an excellent overview of the songs that changed the music world, and, quite simply, a damn good time. Try listening to it on your car stereo and not wind up driving too fast.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.kraftwerk.com
Label Website: http://www.astralwerks.com

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