Record Review: John Foxx + The Maths – Tarzan + Jane Regained DL

john foxx + the maths - tarzan + jane regained cover art

Metamatic Records | UK | DL | 2020

John Foxx + The Maths: Tarzan + Jane Regained UK DL [2020]

  1. Tarzan + Jane Regained [single version]

Originally, “Howl,” the new album by John Foxx + The Maths was scheduled for release on May 15th but with the COVID-19 lockdown, many artists were holding release dates back until people were more able to buy physical product again. So it was a surprise on the morning of May 1st, when I got word from the Metamatic mailing list that “Tarzan + Jane Regained” had gotten pre-released ahead of the album, which was by then pushed out to July 27th.

I’ve was called back on the job last week, so there will be more regular postings due to Lunch Hour having become more regular of late, even as I feel that the rush back to the old ways could be potentially catastrophic. As a wage-slave, I don’t have much say in the matter. Things have been so topsy-turvy lately, that I’m only just able to have a solid listen to the second pre-release single from John Foxx + The Maths from the still upcoming “Howl” album. What’s it like?

A single beat dropped before the song began on the “two.” Right away the interplay was between the rhythm box and the minor key flute-like synths [that can’t help but make me think of The Specials “Ghost Town”] and Robin Simon’s guitar, which was more under control than on the last Maths outing. I suspect that what I thought were flute patches were actually Hannah Peel’s heavily mutated violin. I’d heard that there’s little straight violin to be heard on this album.

The biggest difference here was Foxx as he’s back in touch with his wilder, pre-Quiet Man artistic persona. Certainly this song of animal passion would have been out of place on any of his albums post-1977. But the subtext of animal attraction was just another way of parsing Foxx’s favorite Ballardian theme with the wild reclaiming the civilized. This time using a trope from the 20th century [“Me Tarzan – You Jane”] that’s even older than Foxx. When the “scandalous” faux-documentary “Mondo Cane” manifested in the lyric, the reconnection to the trash-culture roots of Foxx couldn’t be more direct.

As was the guitar of Robin Simon with his trademark Post-Punk flanging sounding like a snapshot of 1978. The climax where Foxx’s synths duel on the outro with his sharp riffage while Benge kept the New Wave backbeat was definitely my kind of throwback. This single [an edit of the LP mix currently on sale in The Maths’ Bandcamp store]  was less ragged than the first one had been; perhaps giving succor to those who were potentially aghast at the shift in tone from the usually reliable Foxx. But he said that this album was deliberately something that he found missing from his canon after his review of his body of work showed far more constraint than he imagined had been there, We’ll see how much more awaits us by July 27th.§

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§ – Though technically I also have a third single that was released form this album in edit form with this one, which I’ve yet to play.

john foxx + the maths - the last time I saw you UK 7" sleeve

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Jones + Sky Reflect On The Distance Between Us

Logan Sky + Steven Jones by Marlie Centawer

Jones + Sky target our odd zeitgeist ©2020 Marlie Centawer

This morning we heard news of Steven Jones + Logan Sky stepping forward with an eerie new single to give us something new to hear that reflects our current zeitgeist. “Shedding My Skin” is a 3-track download made during the weirdness. Given that one of the things we miss so much from the 80s was the joy of a good 12″ single, I’m more than down with their release of a “non-LP A-side” for our delight that comes complete with B-side remix and a spectacular dub mix as well.

steven jones + logan sky shedding my skin cover

Etrangers Musique | DL | 2020

Steven Jones + Logan Sky: Shedding My Skin – DL [2020]

  1. Shedding My Skin
  2. Toy [Boxed]
  3. New Skin

“Shedding My Skin” came with differences that were immediately apparent from the first note with Jones’ lonesome expression vocals  sounding very eerie and windswept against the grinding synths and modest beatbox. The lyrics were a well-considered turn by recent collaborator Kevin O’Dowd who also gave some lyric to their last new album, “Rotating Angels.” The response of the individual to covid-19 as well as the greater role that the environment and even the surveillance culture play all existed here in a dance of anxiety to the minor key shards of synth that Mr. Sky brought to the table. The vibe was subdued and uncertain, like we all have been. At the end of the song the thematic précis that Jones’ haunting backing vocals brought to the program were a new sort of atmosphere for the duo who seem to be leaving behind their days of synthpop like a discarded first stage booster.

A remix of the song “Toy” from the “Rotating Angels” album fit right into the vibe here like a missing puzzle piece. Some times a B-side is a weird wildcard that didn’t fit anywhere else, but in this case, the repurposed song was definitely of a piece to the A-side it was mated with. And the spectacular dub mix, “New Skin,” stripped away all of the lead vocals and rhythm to substitute delicate synth arpeggios and some truly spectacular guitar from Henri Voltaire, a player I’d never heard of before but will be interested in hearing more from. This was a crystalline piece of dark beauty like shards of obsidian tumbling through the night sky, catching glints of starlight. I was thrilled to see the pair enlisting Jan Linton on their last work, and here Mr. Voltaire certainly matched the high standard they had already established for guest guitar most capably. This is haunting, elegant work by all concerned.

The Post-Punk complexity that they had begun with the last album has continued here with this new single, which is available for listening and as a free download below, but of course we pay for nice things. Their new album is still in the oven but this was a welcome piece to have them share with us in this weird period.

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Sometimes, Not Buying Records Is A Bit Boring

mailbox full of records

Yes, I specifically picked a mailbox large enough to receive this exact package

Yes, yes, yes. I know I have been trying, year over year to spend less on music and enjoy what I have more than obsessing over what I don’t yet have. This year I’ve really been holding expenses to a bare minimum. But a few weeks ago, something happened to tip my hand. I was supposed to take a trip to England and see Heaven 17 play the first two Human League albums in March but that obviously, didn’t happen. But in preparation for that event, I took the step of closing down my yard sale of records I hold on Discogs. So that a sale wouldn’t happen while I was nowhere to do anything about it. So I turned off everything. It’s still off. But I got an email in Discogs from a guy loking to see if I would sell off an item I owned. It was a Marie Audigier 7″ on Les Disques Du Crepuscule I had bought 25 years ago and never played. I spun the disc. It was nothing too special, but the item was selling for about $20. I bought it new for $3.29. So I said, yeah, I’ll sell it to you for $10. That felt like enough profit. Besides, the guy needed it as a gift for someone. So…sale! Happy.

well packed records and CDs

Yes, the vendor cut a divot into two spacers to secure the CDs perfectly…wouldn’t you?

This gave me some pocket change in my account to maybe buy the last Fingerprintz 7″ I needed to make my long-gestating DLX RMs with all necessary bonus tracks of the Fingerprintz oeuvre, but a small voice told me that maybe I should check out my favorite dealer, Philadelphiamusic before hitting that “buy” button. Good thing I looked! I passed in the last two years on many of these fine items, and they somehow acquired more copies of some rare vinyl I desired at [mostly] rock bottom prices! So I popped for an outlay of 20 releases at what was almost an embarrassingly low cost. Last Friday, the sight above greeted me in my oversized mailbox. I learned the hard way that having a conventional sized mailbox meant that any records I ordered needed a trip to the Post Office to receive. As it is by necessity my wife who picks up any packages, this was uncool. Hence the mondo mailbox. I opened the package to see…the perfection above.

shock angel face label art

I’ve been obsessing over this track since 1981 and only found out there was a 12″ mix a decade ago.

Two CDs were in with 18 records, and they had cut spacers to hold the CDs securely – just like I would when selling. Just three of these records accounted for almost half of the $61 outlay. The long [try 39years on for size…] sought after “Angel Face” 12″ single by New-Ro mime troupe Shock was a hefty $17, but that has been a record that was always $30-60 in years past. The time was NOW. Then the Midge Ure-produced cover of Sly Stone’s classic “If You Want Me To Stay” by deadpan woman extraordinaire Ronny is like the Shock single, a record rarely stocked in this country. ¡No problema! at $7.00 Then the Bette Bright album intrigued as I recall seeing those inport 7″ singles of hers in the bins back in the day. I like Deaf School… sold! It’ll be well worth the $4.00, I’m sure.

mari wilson - would you dance with a stranger cover art

I’ll definitely need to add this to the official discography

Then my gawd, the things I got with the other $34.00!!!!! Seventeen releases of high necessity!! The last Marti Jones solo CD I didn’t have at a price they practically paid me to take it from them. Two of the five Pete Shelley singles I need for a rarities compilation event. The Pat Wilson EP I wanted for 37 years. One of the few Mari Wilson discs I don’t already own, and a 12″ [I already have the 7″…] from Compact Records labelmate Cynthia Scott. I have tons of 12″ remixes from Data’s “Elegant Machinery” period, but not the UK 12″ of “Blow” with “Blow-Back” on the B-side. Now that home-grown DLX RM of that title is possible.

One more Positive Noise 12″ to fill out the LPs of that fine Scot band I’ll have to make. And speaking of Scots, FINALLY… the 12″ of “No Regrets” is in the Record Cell!!! That was an incredibly difficult single to source back in 1982. I only got the 7″ when Mr. Ware gifted me with a catalog-bought SPN 7″ with textured sleeve in the late 80s, but the 12″ was insanely rare in America for some reason. Holger Hiller’s scarce “Whippets” single with Billy MacKenzie conspiring to blow our minds. And three 12″ singles from the intriguing Floy Joy [I got the album a year ago] as produced by Don Was. Shipping from The City of Brotherly Love? A scant $5.00!!!!! [swoons]

So all of this bounty was barely a financial blip. I’m still scraping the ground on music costs this year [knock wood]. Well under $200 but with these kinds of titles making inroads, I could not be more happy and content. This year I am trying to keep to buying focused to what I want as much as possible and it’s a whole lot better than the sheer bulk of over consumption. I’m happier spending $60 on 20 releases I really want than $400 on a scattershot approach. It’s quality that matters.

holger hiller - whippetscover art pete shelley - no one like you cover art pete shelley - never again UK 12" sleeve spoons - bridges over borders US Promo 12" label escort - love in indigo US 12" label bette bright -rhythm breaks ice UK LP sleeve pat wilson - bop girl US EP sleeve marti jones - live at spirit square cover art webb wilder - it came from nashville cover art  floy joy - operator operator UK 12" sleeve floy joy - until you come back to me UK 12" sleeve cynthia scott - the x boy UK 12" sleeve mari wilson - would you dance with a stranger UK 12" sleeve positive noise - a million miles away UK 12" robert palmer - some guys have all the luck UK 12" sleeve scritti politti - take me in your arms + love me UK 7" sleeve midge ure - no regrets UK 12" sleeve data - blow UK 12" sleeve ronny - if you want me to stay UK 12" sleeve shock - angel face UK 12" label

  1. Holger Hiller: Whippets – Mute – 12 MUTE 55 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$3.00
  2. Pete Shelley: No One Like You – Island Records – 12XS 2 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$2.00
  3. Pete Shelley: Never Again – Immaculate Records – 12 IMMAC 1 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$2.00
  4. Spoons: Bridges Over Borders – Mercury – PRO 490-1 – USP – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$2.00
  5. Escort: Love In Indigo – Escort Records – ESCRT-002 – US – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  6. Bette Bright: Rhythm Breaks The Ice – Korova – KODE 4 – UK – LP – Philadelphiamusic/$4.00
  7. Pat Wilson: Bop Girl – Warner Bros. Records – 1-25072 – US – EP – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  8. Marti Jones: Live At Spirit Square – Sugar Hill Records – SHCD-5502 – US – CD – Philadelphiamusic/$1.12
  9. Webb Wilder + the Beatnecks: It Came From Nashville DLX RM – Landslide Records – LDCD 1029 – US – CD – Philadelphiamusic/$3.17
  10. Floy Joy: Operator Operator – Virgin – VS 744 – 12 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  11. Floy Joy: Until You Come Back To Me – Virgin – VS 716-12 – UK – 2×12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  12. Cynthia Scott: The X Boy – The Compact Organization – ACT X6 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.69
  13. Mari Wilson: Would You Dance With A Stranger – The Compact Organization – ACT 14 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$2.11
  14. Positive Noise: A Million Miles Away – Statik Records – TAK 22-12 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$2.03
  15. Robert Palmer: Some Guys Have All The Luck – Island Records – 12 WIP 6754 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  16. Scritti Politti + Sweetie Irie: Take Me In Your Arms + Love Me – Virgin – VS 1346 – UK – 7″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  17. Midge Ure: No Regrets – Chrysalis – CHS 12 2618 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$1.50
  18. Data: Blow – Illuminated Records – ILL 4512 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$4.00
  19. Ronny: If You Want Me To Stay – Polydor – POSPX 247 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$7.00
  20. Shock: Angel Face – RCA – RCAT 14 – UK – 12″ – Philadelphiamusic/$17.00

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Posted in Core Collection, Deadpan Women, New Romantic, Record Collecting, Scots Rock | Tagged | 8 Comments

Want List: Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die – Punk + Post-Punk Graphics 1976-1986

The full monty box has plenty of perks

The Rocket 88 limited edition is packed with VAT – value added tchatkes

Last Friday I got notice from the best brains at Rocket 88 Books that they are currently prepping a deluxe numbered edition of Andrew Krivine’s book that cuts to the heart of this Monk’s twin obsessions; Post-Punk and graphic design! The 352 page hardcover comes packed with the cream of writer Andrew Krivine’s personal collection of Punk and Post-Punk ephemera that was extensive enough to serve as the source for the Museum Of Art + Design’s show covering exactly this topic last summer.

museum of art and design postpunk graphics show summer 2019

Wow. They all look mint condition, too!

I am chagrined that I am just funding out about this show ex-post facto, but at least the book is available. Rocket 88’s edition will be published this summer in a numbered edition of 500 that come with the following selection of special artifacts:

  • Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die
    book by Andrew Krivine
  • The Clash, Complete Control poster (1977)
    print signed by Sebastian Conran, size approx 550 x 400mm
  • The Clash, Clash City Rockers poster (1978)
    print signed by Sebastian Conran, size approx 550 x 400mm
  • Buzzcocks, Love You More / Noise Annoys single cover artwork (1978)
    print signed by Malcolm Garrett, size approx 550 x 400mm
  • Acme Attractions Tote bag
    original artwork design (1975)
  • Certificate of Authenticity
    signed by Andrew Krivine
  • Presentation box designed by Malcolm Garrett
too fast to live malcolm gatter cover art

Malcolm Garrett pastiched his Buzzcocks work for one cover…

to oyoung to die cover art by peter saville

Yes, Peter Savile went there…

Yow! Lots of potential Malcolm Garrett artistic DNA will be in this one, between the pages of the book, his collaboration on the cover with his friend Peter Saville, and his design of the presentation box, not to mention his actual DNA strands [probably] on the signed Buzzcocks single sleeve print within. Rocket 88 books have this in preorder right now for, are you sitting down? $370 in discount to $310 as the tome is in preorder. I’d love one, but this Monk has taken vows of poverty that preclude such endeavors. Fortunately, the conventional mass market hardcover, which was released in early April, can be had for a price in line with my budget.  It can be ordered at numerous places, but if you are in the UK, why not support our friends at Rough Trade? Otherwise, those of you with more robust bank accounts that I have can hit that button below for one of the few examples of a iconic piece of Malcolm Garret design as signed by the maestro.

communist purchase button

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Posted in Assorted Images, Designed By Peter Saville, Want List | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

OMD Streamed A Gig Online And All I Got Was This Beautiful T-Shirt

OMD live eventim apollo 2019

You are an OMD geek if: you took photos of a streaming gig from the monitor screen – but they look better than my usual concert pix!

Sigh. I try to live the Google-free life but it’s a tough and miserly row to hoe. Against my expectations, I was not doing landscaping work on Saturday afternoon and was thus able to catch the OMD “Live From Your Sofa” online event as it went down. If you missed it, I’ve heard that it will be on YouTube for the next few days. It was an interesting portrait of this Core Collection band at the 40 year point of their history. But not all of it was modern.

Of course I definitely had an interest in seeing the band perform the first song, the incomparable “Stanlow.” Long my favorite OMD song (for about 40 years) and hardly in danger of losing that cachet, it was something that I’d never seen before live or on video. I’m pleased to see that the band recognize its emotive power is second to none if they will open a 40 year tour with it. Watching the band perform this I could not get Kraftwerk and the passing of Florian Schneider out of my mind. The four figures still on the darkened stage brought their progenitors to the forefront. Seeing Paul Humphreys standing at his keyboard got me a little misty eyed. Then the propulsive “Isotype” from their latest album, “Punishment Of Luxury” had even closer musical ties to the clean, modern techno pop of the Düsseldorf foursome, but the way that the band approached the song emotionally was of a vastly different tact. As much as OMD take from the Kraftwerk template, they are still their own band.

OMD live at eventim apollo 2019

When Andy holds a bass that is when the band were at their peak

The rest of the first set dove into their bucket of hit singles that showed their enviable strengths at writing songs with unique points of view starting with their first British hit, the durable “Messages.” Then came a torrent of eclectic hits beginning with the wit of “Tesla Girls” and continuing through to the trilogy of hits that “Architecture + Morality” issued at some sort of peak synergy of artistic and commercial success that every band wished would happen to them.

OMD live at eventim apollo 2019

Sometimes Andy was out of range of the fixed focus camera that recorded the event

Then the intermission that had been cut from the program happened and the band came back onstage for another pair of deep cut classics with the heartbreaking “Statues” followed by their first b-side, “Almost.” One has to love the fealty that OMD pay to their artistic essence. And how fortunate for them that singe written barely bout of their teens were so mature and timeless. Which made the rest of the second set disappointing in comparison. Following “Almost” they played a new song from their “Souvenir” greatest hits collection that, believe it or not, I had not heard yet. “Don’t Go” was on shaky ground in that the title was taken from a refrain from “So In Love;” hardly one of their finest hours from the “play-to-the-market” regrettable section of their career. Musically a bit better than that, but the gist of the song was solidly in their wheelhouse of their post-“Dazzle Ships” write-hits-or-die era. That they actually followed it with “So In Love” was a poor decision which did “Don’t Go” absolutely no favors. Then only “Punishment Of Luxury” and the venerable classic “Enola Gay” managed to help us make it through the trip of “Dreaming,” “Sailing On The Seven Seas,” and “Locomotion.” The latter a single that I liked at first only to come to loathe in the 21st century.

OMD live at eventim apollo 2019

“Almost” was performed by the band in their “Kraftwerk ‘81” performance style that had blown me away on the ‘18 concert

The encore was problematic. That this band played a show in England for their 40th anniversary and then encored with their biggest American hit, the sappy “If You Leave” (which was not a hit in England) showed poor judgement. Then to follow that with the solo Andy era song of “Pandora’s Box” which sounded not a bit like OMD in spite of having that name on the sleeve was disappointing. Then the show closed as they all do, with their cheeky re-write of Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity,” which we all know and love as “Electricity.”

There was so much right to be enjoyed by this band who are making excellent modern records with none of the songwriting compromises that marred their mid period. And yet that material, which admittedly gave the band a second lease on life following the commercially disastrous (but artistically wondrous) “Dazzle Ships” album still is included in their sets. Hearing it is jarring next to the superb early hit material and the music they have released in the last decade. I really wish after three strong albums that they would “Do a Bowie” and after these anniversary shows simply table songs like “Locomotion” or “Dreaming.” They have served their purpose. They prolonged the commercial life of the band but were the cause of its breakup in 1988. So their cost must be questioned. I’d love to see those hits swept under the carpet of history. The band would seem so much stronger without them. And only American audiences care about those songs in the first place. I’d even go as far as suggesting that deep cuts from “Crush” or “Pacific Age” might fly with me. And any OMD material written without Paul Humphrey should also be tabled.

Regarding the presentation of this show, I really loved the single camera p.o.v. with a single setup from the lighting desk capturing everything at a reasonable framing. Sure, sure. Sometimes Andy wandered out of shot but the lack of “direction” and gratuitous jimmyjib swoops and thousands of split second cuts made this a pleasure to watch. Like at a real concert, I could “direct” my eyes wherever I wanted to in watching it. I wish more concert home videos were like that.

On the other hand, the formula of an OMD concert is showing its age. Open with a song or two (not obvious hits) and then follow it with “Messages.” End the first set with “Souvenir,” “Joan Of Arc,” and “Maid Of Orleans.” End the second set with “Enola Gay.” Final encore – “Electricity.” That should change. It’s too rote.

OMD maid of orleans 2020 t-shirt design

This beauty was coming home with me even though I wasn’t “at” the gig

public image limited t-shirt art

Another interesting aspect to this streaming concert was the “virtual merch table.” The band were going to table their summer gigs due to covid-19 but widely thought to make the new merch still available. A glance there revealed that the classic 1981 enamel badges had been remanufactured anew! That was great but my eyes were transfixed on the stunning “Maid Of Orleans” t-shirt that commanded my finger to click the button. £25 (U$ 32) and with shipping from the UK not exactly cheap but I really wanted that one. And when my wife entered and saw it she asked if I was going to buy that. “I’d love to,” I retorted and she said “you should,” so seconds later I was into it to the amount of $41 and change. And no regrets there. Better still, I mentioned to her that I regretted missing that lovely gold foil on red PiL short of a few years back. Then I went to PiL’s web store and it was there for a third time, now cheaper and with US shipping, so I bought that one yesterday too. Scratching a sartorial itch I’d had for a couple of years.

The OMD concert will be up on their YouTube page for at least a few days so if you care to partake then have at it, but quickly. And if that shirt calls to you like it did to me, then click that button below!

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Posted in Badges, Concert Review, Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

Florian Schneider: 1947-2020

florian schneider mid70s

Schneider in the mid-70s era of Kraftwerk

I hadn’t even finished playing my run of Stranglers albums this week when yesterday morning I got the first message from Gavin, who’s more connected than I am by far. He was suggesting that Kraftwerk founder Florian Schneider had died and while an early sniff around the usual places was inconclusive, the second time I thought to look, later in the day, the news had spread widely and definitively. Florian Schneider-Esleben had died, possibly prior to May 6th, at just over 73 years of age. One of the prime architects of electronic pop music was now gone. It has been revealed that he had suffered through cancer and died at the end of April before his death was announced.

I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of hearing the strangeness of the 3:25 edit of “Autobahn” infiltrate the US Top 40 radio format in 1974. Hearing it the first time was a galvanizing experience. Of a piece with the other two Seminal Singles, as I call them. Records so game-changing that they altered my trajectory of enjoying music in ways that were a sea change, looking back. As usual, the records that meant the most to me were not really big hits, just unlikely middling ones. And the conservative Central Florida pop airwaves saw fit to not play a record like “Autobahn” as much as I’d care to hear it, so my practice of listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40® weekly countdown show went a long way to actually insuring that I’d hear a song like “Autobahn,” or “Love Is the Drug” at least once a week in my hours [and hours] of radio listening. In 1976, a friend from elementary school whose dad got stationed in Germany had moved away but visited once a few years later. I asked him how popular Kraftwerk were in Germany but he’d never heard of them. He was far more into Jethro Tull!

kraftwerk autobahn US 1977 reissue back cover art

The band photo on the back cover of my first 1977 pressed copy of “Autobahn”

I got my first stereo in 1978 and I wasted no time in buying a copy of “Autobahn” among my first dozen or so LP purchases. I was amazed to find that the electronic ditty that I was familiar from on the AM radio a few years earlier was an entire album side. I apple seeded Kraftwerk among my Germanophile high school friends who soaked up the music like a sponge. My friend Dan who had moved from NYC to Central Florida in 1977 told tales of hearing the song “Trans-Europe Express” on the radio there but although I saw the 45 in my local K-mart I swear it never got any airplay, though maybe it was down to the station I listened to. I was a Top 40 kid so WLOF-AM was my station. Maybe WOKB-AM, the “urban” station was probably playing them, as I would hear later in high school when “Computerworld” was a breakout electro jam on that station.

In high school I recall chasinvictoria had managed to grab a copy of the “Ralf + Florian” album that I wondered where in sequence it came into the Kraftwerk story. I recall thinking in those simpler times that it came after “Autobahn” which was surely their first album. In those days, “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” were complete unknowns. In fact, to this day they never have gotten a US release at all. Only sophisticated, import buying Prog rockers knew about this stuff! Not a greenhorn kid in junior high school with no siblings to guide him and only a few-half-clues stuffed in his back pocket. I first heard “Trans Europe Express when I gave it to my friend Rosalie for a gift of some kind. Wow! That was an amazing sound. To this day “Europe Endless” is my go-to Kraftwerk song. Such utter beauty in the service of relentless machine certitude. How I wished that they had delved further into this sort of sound. [Fortunately, OMD have proven resilient on this particular thread]

kraftwerk - computerworld cover art

The last classic Kraftwerk album

I remember seeing the visually severe cover of “Man Machine” in the K-mart record department racks. Which was the closest thing to a record store I had growing up since I could ride my bike there from the neighborhood. But I didn’t hear that record until a few years after it came out. Probably around the time that the last classic imperial period Kraftwerk album was released shortly before graduation from High School in 1981. A friend of mine gave me a copy of “Computerworld” as a graduation present and around that time was when I heard the sounds on the big mono portable cassette radios some students [of color] would bring into the art classes. There was nothing I liked better than actually programming my Radio Shack Color Computer in BASIC while listening to this album! The cover image to the album looked as if it could have been programmed on the same computer. It was a high-resolution display in monochrome settings.

After 1981, the band seemed to mothball for several tense years. It was only then that I ever came across the “Radio-Activity” album of 1975 which was the follow-up to “Autobahn” that I somehow missed entirely for five to six years! My friend Tom was the one who shocked me when he bought this strange album that would prove ultimately so influential to one of my favorite new bands, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

Little did I know that the emergence of sampling by 1980 seemed to act as a unexpected disruption to the famous Kraftwerk methodology of having their synthesizers and music processing hardware custom built by the late 70s. They had not foreseen the emergence of software to render hardware unnecessary and it seemed to shake their confidence. Between The Art Of Noise’s “Into Battle” EP and the head injury sustained by avid cyclist Ralf Hütter during the recording of their only release between 1981 and 1986, the “Tour De France” single of the same year seemed to show Kraftwerk at an impasse. I remember seeing advance industry word about an album named “Techno Pop” in the chute so at first I did not buy the single; thinking it would be on the follow up album. I got a copy in 1984-5 when it was apparent that the release was cancelled.

kraftwerk - tour de france UK 7" cover art“Tour De France” was shocking at the time for the sampled slap bass that was probably a stock sample. It was almost inconceivable that the band who used to have their synth gear custom made would use such sounds, as their curation of sound until then had been peerless and singular. The single felt a little off but at least had an expansive melody that to my ears, harked back to some of the pastoral beauty that was inherent in “Europe Endless.” But after this single, it was back to the deep freeze for the band for another three years. Little did we know at the time that this would be the new norm [and how!] for the group.

In 1986 the silence was broken again by their first album to follow 1981’s “Computerworld.” This was the first new Kraftwerk album I would buy on compact disc, and as usual, a favorite band would be releasing what was to me a disappointing album on the new, digital format that was so otherwise entrancing. Causing me cognitive dissonance. “Electric Cafe” was a sidelong suite of minimal proto-techno that sounded too scanty for my ears. It took me years to enjoy it for what it was. Then, the rest of the album was an eclectic blend of more baroque sounds [including sampled strings] that was closer to something I preferred by the group though clearly showed the band in a holding pattern; having been unable to advance their vision in the intervening years. From this point on the innovators were now also-rans. And that was a tough realization to swallow since their influence to me by that time was immense. A dozen of my favorite bands were all trying to varying degree of success to be the “British Kraftwerk.” They were my Beatles.

florian schneider played the flute first

Flutes were treated with effects for a hybrid sound in the band’s early days

It was some time in the early 90s when I managed to finally find a copy of “Ralf + Florian” on LP and even 8-track cassette! Around that same time, my friend Ron was thinning out his collection for his first trip to Japan and I relieved him of his Japanese first pressings [from 1979] of “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2.” Also his glow-in-the-dark “Neon Lights” 12″ single. When I played them I was surprised to hear that the theme song to PBS’s science program, “Newton’s Apple” was actually Kraftwerk’s “Ruckzuck” from their free-form Krautrock era! The first four Kraftwerk albums featured Schneider playing the flute as much as any synthesizers as that was his field of study.

When the next new Kraftwerk music appeared an incredible five years later, it was in the guise of a remake album where they picked music from their imperial period [and “Electric Cafe” ] to record “The Mix.” By that time, percussionists Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür had left the band that they had contributed to during the band’s most vital phase. This was down to Ralf + Florida with engineer Fritz Hilpert. It was an album which we certainly bought immediately, but I’d be lying if I didn’t state that I felt that all of the new versions were inferior; with the exception of “Radioactivity” and “Computerlove.” Not only had they been unable to advance their vision, but there seemed to be an inability to even compose. Still, I did enjoy buying the singles from this release in CD format by 1991. We even had tickets for a tour that was supposed to have them playing in Miami that was ultimately cancelled, in a disappointing blow.

Two years later Karl Bartos struck out with Rheingold’s Lothar Manteuffel as Elektric Music. It even had Andy McCluskey writing and singing a track, and longtime designer Emil Schult also designed the “Esperanto” album that got heavy play from me that year. It was possibly the last time I could have said that I had a favorite album of a certain year as 1993 happened. Kraftwerk seemed moribund, but computer technology made their previously rare concert tours more likely as the band may have not recorded anything new but they were now touring on a more regular basis than ever. Thanks to the ability of modern technology to make gambits like the notion of taking their Kling Klang studio with them on tour in 1981 as there was no other way to achieve that sound live.

I finally saw Kraftwerk in 1998 at a show in Chicago along with my friend [and commenter] JT and his friend James in a fascinating, emotionally moving experience that saw me weeping for the first 15 minutes at the culmination of a life of fandom. I remember that afterward, we discussed just how much of the show was live and how much was Memorex® to couch it in that term. We seemed to think that it was closer to a mixing event than a performing event but it’s well-established now that the band construct unique versions of numbers from established sonic building blocks of sound they manipulate in realtime.

kraftwerk - expo2000 lenticular CD cover art

The lenticular printing was of an amorphous shape/image [the Expo logo] so the usual drawbacks to the technique didn’t really matter this time

The next year I was surprised to see that the “Tour De France” single had gotten a reissue on CD single format complete with QuickTime® video of the video on an Enhanced CD. Then, a scant year later, the new Kraftwerk single manifested as the band had provided a jingle [or sonic branding as we now call it] for the Expo 2000 World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany. This had been worked from a few seconds into a fully fledged composition in several mixes, and the resulting single was pretty mediocre. Still, I managed to buy the Enhanced CD with the alternate cover and the really dreadful remix single with people other than Kraftwerk watering down the music. Actually, The band’s own Kling Klang mix 2002 was pretty good [and it sped up the sluggish track by a factor of at least two], but that was one mix out of ten.

By 2004 I was in a local record store in my then-new city of Asheville. I was astonished to see a used CD in a local store that had come out the previous year called “Tour De France Soundtracks,”that I had gone completely unaware of! How queer that felt to find out about the new Kraftwerk album by buying it when I saw it in the used bin! Apparently, the band had now revisited that single to re-record it in an inferior version. And built up an album around it. It was all too labored for my ears, but “Vitamin” and especially “Aero Dynamik” had that Kraftwerk spark that all of the cycling themed foofraw surrounding the album had failed to excite me with.

2005 brought another new Kraftwerk release that indicated a lack of  movement. “Minimum-Maximum” was a double CD that showcased how the only development that the band was capable of was in a backward glance as their new live arrangements of their many tours of the modern era were now duly recorded and released. It was years later when I finally bought a used copy as it hardly seemed absolutely necessary. That ship had sailed. I also got the DVD of it that like so many music-oriented home videos, has sat, unwatched in my home as my wife prefers films for her video entertainment. One day we’ll see it.

organisation - tone float cover artI would go on to see Kraftwerk three more times at Moogfest 2014, but only that first time in Chicago had Schneider onstage. By 2008 he had retired from the band he had spent 40 years with. Though technically, Kraftwerk only dated to 1970, Schneider first recorded with Hütter in 1968 in the band Organisation, who issued the “Tone Float” album only in England in 1968 with copies going for many hundreds of dollars I could not spend on a copy. I suspect that I’ll never own this one. Discogs lists 24 different editions, but only this one is not a pirate copy. By the last decade, the band, sans Schneider, became a world famous brand with their by now legendary 3-D concerts playing to art museums around the world as well as concert halls and festivals.

Only Ralf Hütter remains in the band now and they have issued a boxed set where they have played their entire modern Katalog [music from 1974 onward only] that has yet to find a home in my Record Cell, but one day I suspect it will happen. There have been rumors of the first three, atypical Kraftwerk albums getting a re-issue but I think that’s just smoke + mirrors. Mr. Hütter clearly has little interest in pursuing this tact; given that he’s seemingly unmoved by a robust market in pirate CDs of this material for the last 25 or so years. When Ralf dies, I fully expect the shows to continue with the legendary Kraftwerk robots using AI learned from Ralf’s arrangement decisions to endlessly continue the band in perpetuity as a sound and music spectacle that will be on a more agreeable level than this new and ghoulish penchant for “holographic” tours that chills my very blood. And the election of the band to the heretofore resistant Rock + Roll Hall Of Fame will probably also happen in the next few years. Kraftwerk have been on the ballot for the last several years, and I expect the loss of Schneider to tip the scales for the band the next ballot. Or two.

The last 25 years have seen this cult act who managed to influence generations of my favorite British musicians as well as American musicians at the forefront of dance music technology for the last 40 years really manage to cultivate an aura and reputation that has grown dramatically in size in a way that I could not have predicted as an eleven year old captivated by the strange beauty of “Autobahn” on the transistor radio that was my constant companion. For the part of that journey that mattered most, Florian Schneider was there every step of the way adding his penchant for voice synthesis and studied musicality to the final product. He was the first member of Kraftwerk to cut his hair short and was the style leader in the band in terms of image. Together with his bandmates Kraftwerk, he managed to effect a truly revolutionary seismic shift in how music was perceived, produced and consumed. If you own any neon lighting, now is the time to turn it on in remembrance.

Florian Schneider mid-70s

a jovial Schneider cutting a snappy figure in 2016

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Dave Greenfield: 1949-2020

Dave Greenfield ca. 2013 - love the rat

Dave Greenfield in 2012 from Stranglers French forum, CC BY-SA 3.0

Here we go again. I had planned to review a new release today but I was blindsided by this instead. I have been mentally preparing for every musician I enjoy eventually meeting their fate as have been writing this blog since they are all as little as 3-5 years to 20+ years older than I am. And I’m not terribly young. But the covid-19 crisis is indiscriminate on who gets cut down. Yesterday it was The Strangler’s immensely talented keyboardist, Dave Greenfield who met his untimely end at only 71. The gent was apparently hospitalized for a heart ailment and fell victim to the virus. And here we all thought it would be drummer Jet Black [81 and effectively retired from playing for the last five years] who would probably be the first Strangler to go, but it was down to Greenfield this time.

dave greenfield

A Dapper Dave Greenfield from “Black + White”

I first heard The Stranglers at the courtesy of chasinvictoria, who was hoovering up New Wave compilations like they were going out of style in the heady years of ’78-’80. A+M Records had one called “No Wave” that he was exceptionally besotted with. Not long after buying a copy of that I think he ended up with albums by every one of the bands on it that A+M [the most progressive major label at the time who were actually licensing much of the New Wave acts exploding out of the UK] released. I recall hearing chasinvictoria bring in the “Black + White” album and play the first track on side one, “Tank,” on one of his radio shows at the high school station where we were DJs.

The the entrancing combination of punk belligerence coupled with a clear intelligence and miles of excellent musicianship made me an instant fan. Dave Greenfield was clearly one of the keyboardists of the time who could play for miles. Obviously gifted with heavy technique yet never boring. If “Tank” immediately made me a fan, then Greenfield’s atonal solo on the next track, “Nice + Sleazy” blew my young mind. It made Eno’s seminal work on “Roxy Music” sound staid in comparison. Hearing this was like licking an electric socket! I immediately fell in with The Stranglers and avidly followed their career for the entirety of their years with Hugh Cornwell as their lead singer.

The Stranglers career during my fandom fell into two distinct phases. The New Wave/Punk years on United Artists Records,  when the band were never too far out of the UK top ten with many gold selling albums and hit singles that ran the gamut of styles and influences. Followed by their more commercial [yet ironically less successful] CBS records era. But if the band got more commercial, then at least they were going down that road with panache. Hugh Cornwell had said that he felt that the band’s CBS era had them following the lead of more sophisticated pop like Roxy Music [who had just stepped down in 1983] and Greenfield’s keyboard prowess went a long way towards making that not only possible, but even desirable.

The band had their biggest hit in 1981 with the elegant smack song “Golden Brown” selling big the world over [with the exception of the US, where “punk rock” like The Stranglers never stood a chance] and they used that huge success to transition to the larger CBS Records at the end of their UA contract. Greenfield’s harpsichord hook was utterly central to the song’s gravitational pull. Then the subsequent “Feline” album showed just how sophisticated and stylish these former thugs could be. Songs like “European Female” were close to what Ultravox were offering at the time in the smoothly synthetic sound they offered.

I remember being particularly smitten at the time when “Aural Sculpture” was released in 1983. The songs were simply fantastic and I had always felt that “Skin Deep” was the best song that Johnny Cash had never written. Actually, I would have paid top dollar had Rick Rubin picked that song for Cash to make his own during the American sessions, but it remained a lost opportunity.

mona mur cover art

RCA | GER | CD | 1988 | RCA ‎– PD 71860

Dave Greenfield didn’t stray far from The Strangler’s mothership. There are only a handful of side efforts that kept him busy in his off time. He played occasionally with J. J. Burnel on duo or the latter’s solo efforts. There was the retro cover band The Purple Helments that probably slotted in close to things like Naz Nomad + The Nightmares. In 1988 Greenfield and Burnel were all over the Mona Mur debut album and I may  need to hear this.  Then there was the 1993 Dani album “N Comme Never Again” which also had Jérôme Soligny involvement in addition to Greenfield and Burnel.

But The Stranglers without Cornwell never convinced me. I bought the first single, “Heaven + Hell,” and simply could no longer believe in this once vital band. I bought a few archival albums of Stranglers material post 1990, but that was the extent of any more Greenfield in my Record Cell. But what is in there counts for a lot. Condolences to his family and bandmates are certainly in order.

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