Kraftwerk: The Man-Machine (Die Mensch-Maschine)

MAY 1978 (34 YEARS AGO)
Kraftwerk: The Man-Machine (Die Mensch-Maschine) is released.
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
The Man-Machine is the seventh studio album by Kraftwerk, released in May 1978. It contains the song “The Model” which was a chart-topping single in the UK in 1982. It charted at number 12 in Germany, nine in the UK, and 130 on the US Billboard 200.
The Man-Machine was voted at number 96 on Q magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Albums, and Pitchfork Media listed The Man-Machine as 92nd best album of the 1970s.
THE Man-Machine and its predecessor, 1977’s Trans-Europe Express, deserve their exalted position in the pantheon of modern music, if only for their importance in shaping the future development of hip-hop and dance music. The concept behind The Man-Machine took Kraftwerk’s mechanistic vision of humanity to its logical extreme, but the music within captured the group at their most engagingly melodic. Instantly memorable, “The Model” reached number 1 in the UK singles chart three years later, and proved to be a direct inspiration for the wave of gloomy electronic bands that quickly followed. However, none of them ever came close to grasping the subtle human touch that lay behind Kraftwerk’s faceless exterior.
Less than three minutes into The Man Machine, an album that faithfully extends Kraftwerk’s unmistakable brand of exquisite torture, this group has successfully drained the blood from the listener’s body and pumped in the liquid Lysol. With its efficient modern-world toys—synthesizers, speech synthesizers, synthesized percussion—Kraftwerk strikingly creates a sound so antiseptic that germs would die there. What’s more, the band has never been this conceptually stubborn—even the dreaminess of “Neon Lights” is kept under close surveillance by the insistent percussion—but, happily and ironically, the music gains in power and force because of it.
Listening to The Man Machine is like listening to a telegraph: spare melodies, along with countermelodies, are repeated endlessly. As are the curiously trivial lyrics, usually delivered with the sternness of those voices you hear coming from Dictaphone units. It’s no understatement to say that “The Robots” and “Metropolis” are polar opposites of the German drinking song. Yet, for all its chilling restraint and relentless sameness, the compositions here are often strangely pleasant in an otherworldly way. Probably because of Kraftwerk’s sheer audacity, the overall effect is simultaneously frightening and funny.
As with Trans-Europe Express, the new record has a built-in ambiguity that pretty much accounts for the group’s charm. Though Kraftwerk would seem to worship machines—totally unlike Brian Eno, who, on his brilliant Before and after Science, explores their possibilities—the band might actually be committed humanists, documenting how emotionless the future will be if we continue to cheer such “innovations” as the Chemical Bank Cash Machine. Maybe. Whatever its stance, Kraftwerk still parodies us dumb mortals. Last album’s screamingly funny assessment of the disco masses, “Showroom Dummies,” has given way to “The Model”: “You can hear them say/She’s looking good/For beauty we will pay.”
What kind of boredom is this? It feels so good when it starts, and it feels so good when it stops. (RS 265)
All songs by Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Karl Bartos, except where noted.
Side one
“The Robots” (Die Roboter) – 6:11
“Spacelab” (Ralf Hütter, Karl Bartos) – 5:51
“Metropolis” – 5:59
Side two
“The Model” (“Das Modell”) (R.Hütter, K.Bartos, Emil Schult) – 3:38
“Neon Lights” (“Neonlicht”) – 9:03
“The Man-Machine” (“Die Mensch-Maschine”) – 5:28

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