Kraftwerk - Autobahn - Review
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critics' view

Hello world, Düsseldorf calling again. After 4 years of dicking around inconsequentially, and perhaps spurred on by the recent success of their former bandmates in Neu!, Ralf und Florian finally came good with their 4th long player. At the time of release in November ’74 they were: Ralf Hütter (28, voice, electronics, synthesizer, organ, piano, guitar, electronic drums) and Florian Schneider (27, voice, vocoder, electronics, synthesizer, flute, electronic drums). Also assisting were Wolfgang Flür (27, electronic drums on “Kometenmelodie 1–2”) and Klaus Röder (26, electric violin on “Mitternacht”).

The mesmerizing and super-exciting title-track, clocking in at almost 23 minutes, takes up the entirety of side 1, and serves as some sort of homage to the Bundesautobahn 555, generally considered to be the first (albeit unofficially titled) Autobahn, opened in 1932. It’s an 18kmh stretch in the North Rhine-Westphaliathat that links Köln with Bonn. For more than half a century, there was no speed limit imposed. I’ve worked out however, that a modest cruise at 100 kmh would still leave almost 12 minutes of runtime for the opening track. They didn’t think that through very well, did they? I thought these people were meant to be efficient? Arithmetical issues aside, it’s a stunning piece of work, exhilarating from the opening turn of the ignition key, to the rev-up, and the surreal synthesized whizz-by of passing traffic. Could have done with a slammed door for closure, but, hey, mustn’t grumble, it smashes the Beach Boys for “Fun Fun Fun” and just goes to prove, machine men with machine minds are not all baddies.

On the flip-side, space travel is first on the agenda, as the recent fly-by of Comet Kohoutek is acknowledged in song. “Kometenmelodie 1” seems to be cold and dark in deep space, whilst “Kometenmelodie 2” seems to brighten up considerably, presumably representing the actual moment where it comes in to naked eye contact with the human race. “Mitternacht” (“Midnight”) is next, as the mood takes a turn to the spooky, before “Morgenspaziergang” (“Morning Stroll”) signs off organically, as fresh as a daisy, with earthly pianos and flutes which are entirely whistle-able. Bright as a button, imaginative and entertaining – “Autobahn” was a highly potent chapter in the history of electronic music.

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