Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. We’re getting mechanical for today’s instalment, taking a look at one in a series of striking coloured vinyl reissues from German electro-trailblazers Kraftwerk.
It’s difficult to find a string of records which exceed the breadth of influence exerted by the albums Kraftwerk produced during the height of their creative prowess. Doubtless as influential upon the course of electronic music as The Beatles were upon pop and rock, the German quartet’s fusion of populist melodies with bleeding-edge sonic innovation resulted in a series of records released across the mid to late ’70s which were almost as popular as they were reverentially received. The band’s halcyon days culminated with 1981’s remarkable ‘Computer World’ – or ‘Computerwelt’, as it was known in their homeland. An astonishingly complete record, it represented the fullest articulation of the group’s singular sonic aesthetic; it would also bring a protracted pause in its wake. Though that silence would turn out to be a comma rather than a full stop, the group’s subsequent efforts were infrequent and often met with a mixed reception, although each has gone on to be viewed more favourably with hindsight. Of the latter-day Kraftwerk endeavours, 1991’s ‘The Mix’ is perhaps the most divisive yet arguably also the most interesting. A bold outing by anyone’s standards, the album represented a single flirtation with nostalgia-fuelled anachronism in a career defined by the steely desire for forward momentum. A generously-proportioned collection of remixes handled by the group themselves, ‘The Mix’ comprises a series of reinvented fan-favourites selected from throughout their back catalogue. Though such revision is bound to split opinion by its very nature, these dancefloor-friendly reinventions are deeply enjoyable and often even hair-raising if taken on their own terms. Were Kraftwerk capable of improving upon their own greatest hits with ‘The Mix’? No, of course not – but nor were they trying to. ‘The Mix’ isn’t intended to replace their back catalogue, it serves to accompany it – and, in that sense, it’s nothing short of a great success.
Evidently aware of their thriving international fanbase, the band began to record their albums in both English and their native German beginning with 1977’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’ – ‘The Mix’ continues that trend, with editions of the album available in both languages. Although the group have long enjoyed substantial popularity in their homeland, it’s actually English-speaking markets that account for the largest percentage of their fanbase and, as such, the German-language versions of their catalogue have long been difficult to track down, especially outside of Deutschland itself. Having reissued the entirety of their catalogue in 2009 (sans a clutch of early experimental outings which have been essentially disowned by the band), the German-language versions of their catalogue once again became available alongside the more ubiquitous English-language editions but, as in the past, those versions disappeared quickly. With the passing of Kraftwerk founding member Florian Schneider in April of this year, those with fond memories of the group sought to return to electronica’s most enduring catalogue anew. It seems timely, then, that the band’s oeuvre reappears on vinyl here for the first time in years, released this time on highly attractive coloured wax. As with the 2009 reissues, all applicable titles have been released in both English and German language versions; it’s the latter that we’re reviewing here. For those weaned on the English releases, it may initially come as a surprise to hear these firm favourites sung in their original tongue but – unsurprisingly – the lyrics flow with such ease in German that it’s hard not to conclude that such a fashion is how they should always have been heard. ‘The Mix’ appears on crisp white vinyl and is spread over two LPs; pressed by German industry stalwarts Optimal Media GmbH, initial signs are highly promising. The coloured wax looks simply great and, true to that, our copy is free of detectable visual flaws or aesthetic imperfections. Indeed, both LPs sit flat upon the platter during playback and also sound fantastic. ‘The Mix’ was Kraftwerk’s first exclusively digital recording and although many today prefer fully (or at least primarily) analogue sources where possible, in the case of music as innately mechanical as this, it really doesn’t matter a jot. Indeed, the mastering is rich and detailed, boasting an impactful bass response which never feels so weighty that it encroaches upon the sonic space carved out for the twinkling synthesisers which lend the band their signature sound. Playback is also fantastic throughout, with all four sides boasting low noise floors free of any detectable surface noise.
If nothing else, Kraftwerk have always been a band to possess a firm sense of identity. They have had their own mythos mapped out for longer than the lifespan of their average fan and their self-presentation – both on-stage and off – has been as carefully calculated as the music they produce. Befitting of that, the band have never had an issue with tweaking elements of their own past that they’ve come to consider undesirable – and, as it transpires, such an impulse long ago began to extend to the artwork of their back catalogue. In fairness, the original releases of Kraftwerk’s albums were a mixed bag from a visual aesthetic; for every classic in design such as 1978’s ‘The Man Machine’ or ‘Computerworld’, there was another duffer – such as the uninspired artwork for the original release of ‘Radio-Activity’ or the messy visuals which adorned the original German version of 1974’s ‘Autobahn’. ‘The Mix’ also sported rather garish artwork upon its original 1991 release and, in keeping with many of the other titles in their catalogue remastered for reissue back in 2009, the band devised new artwork more befitting of the music it represents. True to that, this new 2020 reissue of ‘The Mix’ boasts a clean, distinctive design which feels entirely appropriate for the music in question. Truth be told, though, ‘The Mix’s packaging may at first glance seem at tad unremarkable; as attractive as its bold yet minimalistic aesthetic is, the cover itself is a non-gatefold affair despite housing two LPs within. Remove the shrinkwrap, however, and the packaging immediately becomes far more impressive. Although the cover is not overly impressive, the inserts included within certainly are. The records themselves appear in handsome printed card inner sleeves which riff on the themes of the original 1991 release’s artwork; yet best of all is the inclusion of a thick, full-colour LP-sized booklet boasting assorted images. Few albums include inserts as high-quality as this, its weighty paperstock demonstrating the sheer attention to detail present in damn-near everything Kraftwerk do.
With Kraftwerk’s catalogue appearing on widely-available coloured vinyl for the first time, now is as good a time as any to explore the recesses of a catalogue which – despite boasting more than its fair share of outright classics – also possesses more than a few criminally overlooked entries. ‘The Mix’ falls into that latter category and, considering the high standards to which this reissue has been produced in every regard, those with the inclination to look past hits such as ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ to examine the band’s more cult output will doubtless find themselves richly rewarded.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!