Neu! (plus La Dusseldorf, and beyond)
For nearly three decades, Neu! were one of those bands that most music aficionados knew of, but whose records few had actually heard. They didn't stay together very long nor sell a lot of albums, and until Astralwerks re-issued their catalogue in 2001, there were few copies to go around. But they're undeniably influential and helped to shape the modern rock landscape from the mid-70's on. Dozens of artists such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Underworld, Gary Numan, LCD Soundsystem, and Tortoise have either used the ideas of Neu! or were otherwise influenced by them. They were ahead of their time and hinted at genres such as industrial, trance, and punk, and even deserve some credit for pioneering the idea (if not the "art") of the remix. I realize there's an awful lot of hyperbole in those statements, especially for a band that was an obscurity for such a long time, but they still have a timeless feel to them, and their music seems relevant even today.
The motorik beat (which was Neu!'s defining trait) didn't really enter the public's consciousness until Kraftwerk's 1974 release Autobahn (which resulted in a groundbreaking 3-minute single). That's no coincidence - the two members of the band were both ex-members of Kraftwerk. Klaus Dinger was a drummer who played on half of the first Kraftwerk LP, while guitarist Michael Rother was a touring member of the group for about a year. The two split from Kraftwerk in 1971, and by December of that year their first album had been recorded. The all-important "third member" was their producer and engineer Conny Plank, who had a big hand in the group's sound. That sound was basically predicated on Dinger's unique, robotic style of drumming, which was to hammer down an incessant and propulsive 4/4 beat, then to build something around it. That something was often Rother's gentle and sometimes funky guitar lines, sometimes augmented with synthesizers. And...well, that's pretty much it. Essentially this type of music is unclassifiable; Dinger's style is more stripped down and forceful than traditional rock drumming but too straightforward to be anywhere close to jazz. Also, unlike most rock or jazz, the music does not really build from its initial state; there are climaxes and lulls, but for the most part the structure of the music doesn't change. The phrase "the journey is the destination" is a good way to describe this; many of the pieces do sound as though they exist as just a section of one long, static groove.
That's the sound that made the group important historically, but there is a little bit more to them than that. Klaus Dinger basically had the mindset of say, a modern electronic musician, in that he was interested more in endless rhythms and experimentation than actual songs, and saw recordings themselves as instruments of a sort. If there's one thing that really stands out with the group, it's that it doesn't seem to exist in any particular time; these recordings feel like they exist in the past and present at once, and I have a feeling that the music will not feel dated 50 years down the road. While it's part of the general Krautrock movement, it's so clean and stripped down that it doesn't have a particular "feel" to it that would place it as part of a certain scene or era. They really are their own scene.
As for the discography - Neu! only really have three main albums, but there is plenty to explore outside of that. There are a couple of other albums that have the name (a dodgy live album and an aborted reunion), but I would think most fans would be more interested in Dinger and Rother's careers post-Neu!, which probably should be divided up. To make it clear, I think Dinger was the main creative force behind the group and responsible for most of their ideas (good and bad), while Rother provided the stability and overall pleasant sound of the group. Their personalities began to clash after a few years; by 1974, they had split, but wound up getting back together for a final album. Afterward, Dinger formed the surprisingly successful La Dusseldorf (and later, a few less successful groups), while Rother worked with Cluster to form Harmonia, and released sporadic solo albums.
If you've ever heard of the group and are wondering what they're all about, just listen the 10-minute opener here, "Hallogallo". It's everything I described above - a steady, propulsive beat, some funk scratches, and Rother's guitar playing over the top. It's not completely static; there are some drum fills, a few melodies rising out of the strings, and a bunch of climaxes. If you're familiar with Stereolab, you'll probably recognize most of the ideas here. While "Autobahn" was a tribute to the tranquility of movement on the highway, "Hallogallo" is more about the experience of that movement. The road doesn't change, but the scenery does. You're going forward, and it always triggers a small pang of depression whenever you have to hit the brake. I have to emphasize the "movement" part of all this, because I have literally found it impossible to stay still while this is playing; you have to sway your head or tap your foot or something. It really is that perfect. As such, they don't really try to replicate it (at least not until the next album, anyway). The other "big groove" track on the album is "Negativland", and it's different, but also classic; it's harsh, with scraping electric banjo, a tense groove, and an unsteady tempo that varies at random, all building to an incredible and unexpected climax in the final two minutes.
Those two tracks are really where the money is (and they do combine to take up half the album), but there is some other good material here, especially the chill "Weissensee" that concludes Side 1, a slow rhythm that moves up and down as though you're floating (Rother would follow this sound throughout his entire career). The rest of it is more avant-garde, with a couple of formless sound-collages that are either tense and unpredictable ("Sonderagebot", which uses some metal-on-metal scraping and an intentional sound drop-out), or ambient and beautiful ("Im Gluck", which features some gorgeous strings and emulated bird calls). The last track is a real oddity; it's a guitar ballad and can be quite pretty, except for the parts where Dinger shoves the microphone down his throat and croons out what is apparently a love song (to his toilet, maybe). It's basically the "Moonchild" of this album, and I suspect most first-time listeners will hate it (it does become pretty entertaining after a while). None of the more avant-garde bits are really worth much on their own, but in the context of the album they're coherent and help complete an album that otherwise may have been too one-dimensional. Also, this is completely uncharted territory, so even the bad parts are fascinating in their own way. You get the sense these guys didn't do many second takes, especially given their limited time in the studio (4 days!). But it adds up to something worthwhile, as candid and unrefined as it may be.
Neu! '72 Live in Dusseldorf (1972, released 1996)
The relationship between Dinger and Rother got pretty rocky in the 90's, in no small part due to Dinger's self-release of two un-authorized Neu! albums in '95 and '96. With this "live" album, Neu! has something to rival Earthbound for title of "all-time worst live album ever released by an actual label". First of all, like Earthbound, most of the problem comes from terrible fidelity; in this case you have to seriously question whether or not the guy with the tape recorder was even in the building. Secondly, there wasn't even an audience, which means this "performance" is actually more like a "rehearsal". And thirdly, because they have no audience to satisfy, they decide to just wing it and improvise, which means it's basically Rother doodling around until Dinger decides to come in with an inaudible beat (you can only hear like, half of his drum kit here). That's right; Dinger actually released a rehearsal tape of the band (plus bass player Eberhard Kranemann) dicking around on stage in front of an empty crowd. There's no real structure or direction, no reason to break it up into 3 tracks; one of them is 40 minutes long for crying out loud. Don't get me wrong; these guys could play - look at the Bremen Radio 1971 recording on the Kraftwerk page for proof. Look, it's hard for me to really comment on what these guys are playing because the recording is so god-awful; I wouldn't give Beethoven's 9th more than 2 stars if it was recorded this way. And unlike Earthbound, there's not even any scat singing!
I still can't imagine why Dinger released this; it's even more bizarre considering that the original Neu! albums were out of print at the time. It's the only Neu! release that wasn't included in the 2010 box set, but Rother did attempt to correct things by including a few (much shorter, thank you very much) recordings that were apparently recorded on the same day (no real uptick in sound quality, sadly) under the name Neu! '72 non-public test.
Neu! 2 (1973)
Both sides of this album tell a different story; Side A is about what you'd expect from the a follow up, while Side B is the result of a band desperate for material after going broke, unable to get another advance from their record company. The theme on this album is sound manipulation, either by changing the speed of the record or through other clever tricks. The opener "Fur Immer" is an incredible 11-minute motorik groove with harmonic guitar lines and a pulsating beat that feels like a sequel to "Hallo Gallo", but they play a prank on the listener, slightly modifying the speed up and down to give the illusion that the record is warped. The flip side of the record is really something - they took a previously released single consisting of "Neuschnee" and "Super" and manufactured 'new' material by messing around with the record, mainly by playing them at the wrong speed - both songs have a "78" (RPM) version, while "Super" also appears in "16". The other mixes feature the use of a dying cassette player ("Cassetto") and a record playing off center ("Hallo Excentrico"), which are about as bizarre and unnerving as you'd expect. They were not exactly careful about this either; you can hear them carelessly dropping and ripping the needle off, and one of them bumps the table during "Super 78", causing the record to skip. You can certainly praise the band for being resourceful, but this is not something you'll listen to often. The consolation prize is that the single itself is great; "Neuschnee" is a catchy and expressive tune that condenses everything good about the band into 4 minutes, while "Super" is a proto-punk jam with a hard-edged guitar sound.
The result of all this is that the album became quite infamous; it didn't really sell much, but at least it riled up a few critics, who saw the whole thing as a practical joke and wrote some harsh reviews. Lost in all the shuffle was that both the single and Side A were pretty good, hence the album's above-average rating here. From the listener's standpoint, the centerpiece should be "Fur Immer" anyway. Other standouts: "Lila Engel" is a growling piece of hard rock, while "Spitzenqualitat" foreshadows the other side of the album, using an echoed motorik beat over distorted tapes that gradually slow down until the beat is reduced to a slow and powerful thud, a sound that Joy Division copied for their first album.
I wouldn't call this essential; it doesn't really expound upon the first album, and it's not as solid as the next one. Plus, the presence of so much controlled distortion makes it more difficult than the other albums. But most of the material is worthwhile, and as a historical document it's fascinating.
Neu! 75 (1975)
Dinger and Rother took a break for nearly two years, and when they got back together, they discovered they both wanted different things out of the new album. Rother preferred to do things that were melodic and laid-back, whereas Dinger was looking for something more aggressive and primal. So they split the album down the middle and wind up with the best stuff either of them have ever done; every one of the six selections here are classics. They expand their range here, using more instruments and tools here than before, and the pieces in general are more fully realized. Rother's side is incredible; "Isi" may be Neu!'s finest moment, as soft piano chords strike against shimmering synths and a familiar rhythm. It's the motorik beat in a new light, and the result is so hypnotizing that it nearly sounds like it could be the beginning of trance as we know it today. Otherwise, he works with more calming atmosphere; "Seeland" and "Leb Wohl" are both slow-moving, melodic soundscapes; while the former is a straightforward cascading guitar piece with a big beat, the latter is an exercise in natural ambience with gorgeous piano and vocals, backed only by a slowly ticking metronome. This is cerebral music - there's nothing really complex going on here, but it's very easy to get swept away, as they induce such an odd feeling of nostalgia.
Dinger's side is a whole different horse, especially as it's the first appearance of his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe, and the three would later become La Dusseldorf. There is the trademark long-form motorik piece ("E-Musik"), which switches things up by putting the drums in a phase shifter and adding guitars and a few piano melodies. The result is definitely colorful, even if the tune feels unsteady. I wouldn't rank it above "Hallogallo", but it's in the ballpark. His other songs are both loud, proto-punk thrashers ("Hero", "After Eight"), with layered guitars and a strong emphasis on Dinger's growled, angry vocals. It's so easy to get caught up in it that you really don't want the album to end, but the upshot is that the music on this album doesn't wear out; it sounds fresh on every listen. The fact that everything is so accessible is the key here (for both sides of the album) – everything makes an impression right away, but it still hits as deep as Neu!'s other works. Krautrock doesn't get better than this.
La Dusseldorf (1976)
Dinger's first post-Neu! release is essentially the blueprint for the rest of his career. While his half of Neu! 75 favored punk energy and noise, La-D's first album successfully puts the texture back in. It feels like a more organic version of say, "Autobahn" or whatever Harmonia was doing at the time - there are some warm synth patches, but this mostly sticks to Neu!-style drums with guitar, vocal chants, and piano, and no one instrument overwhelms any other, as the band moves as one cohesive unit. It picks up where "E-Musik" left off, but there's a lot more personality (and humor) here. The 13-minute opening track "Dusseldorf" is one big feel-good tribute to Dinger's hometown, with lots of major chords, rising melodies, and even a few goofball vocal chants. There's even a 50's rock n' roll influence in the guitar, which gets expounded upon on the title track (which actually does rock out). Side two is where the vastness of the album really kicks in - both "Silver Cloud" and "Time" are perpetual grooves that resonate the way the first half of Neu! 75 did, but with an optimistic, star-gazing feel. "Silver Cloud" has an absolutely gorgeous synth line; it's almost too crystalline to be taken seriously, but the band does a great job of building around it. In contrast, "Time" feels a little downbeat, with it's somber, oceanic feel and wistful piano chords. But even in that, there's an unmistakable positivity about all this, and the result is an album that truly stands apart from nearly everything else - it feels like proto-post-punk, and the Ramones hadn't even come around yet! Although history paints Neu! as the more important group, La-D actually sold a lot more albums, and they feel like a more direct influence on Bowie's Berlin period and Stereolab's entire career. Though the tension and unrestrained energy of Neu! is timeless, it feels like Dinger really discovered his sound here, as well as some much-needed inner peace.
La Dusseldorf - Viva (1978)
The La-D follow-up album wound up being his biggest seller and his most ambitious album yet. This is bright, hopeful music, picking up where "Silver Cloud" left off, with angelic synths and a lot of gentle piano, plus a few marching rhythms (strangely enough). "Rheinita" is the best indicator of the album's overall sound, with a lazy, floating groove and a bouncy piano part. I don't mean lazy as in underdeveloped; I mean it feels as though it's in no hurry to get anywhere, and even at nearly eight minutes it feels short. Despite being a long instrumental, it was released as a single, which actually sold quite well. But the real turkey is the sidelong anthem "Cha Cha 2000", which is really his magnum opus (as evidenced by the amount of times he'd re-record it on future releases). The strength of the tune is the amount of directions it can go in without losing its central idea; there are a number of both pretty sections and climaxes, as well as a bunch of permutations of the piano/synth/guitar/drums/vocal set-up. As a result, it feels like it has a lot of space to explore, even though it really does not change up much in its 20-minute runtime (it doesn't feel like a sidelong, in a good way). Lyrically, it is mostly a vehicle for Dinger's utopian visions, which feel a little anarchistic if you ask me, though it's still a lot better than the "piss on the industry"-type stuff he'd write later on. At least here they match up with the music quite well, and it's actually kind of refreshing to hear hippie idealism as late as 1978 (though Dinger was hardly your typical hippie).
Anyway, those two are really the meat of the album, but there are some interesting gems on side one - the VU-style "White Overalls" ratchets up the guitar and sounds like a lost punk classic, though it's a little too goofy to be taken seriously. "Geld" also has a big guitar sound, but the bigger draw is the crystalline, ringing synth that gives it a New Wave vibe (otherwise, the song is kind of forgettable and overlong). And the title track is a stomper with a vocal chant that sets up the rest of the album nicely. Really, a lot of this is catchy and very easy to get along with, though it does lack some of the majesty of the first album, and it doesn't have quite the same replay value. But this is really a key album in the Dingerography, and "Cha Cha 2000" is very significant, as it pretty much served as his music's natural endpoint. I do believe you can get both this and the preceding album on one disc, which is really a huge value, as both these albums are both classic and timeless.
La Dusseldorf - Individuellos (1980)
Despite the moderate commercial success of their last two albums, La Dusseldorf seemed to be running on fumes by the time of Individuellos, and it's no shock that the band (which was really just the Dinger brothers by now) didn't issue an official follow-up. The opening "Menschen 1" is well-worn territory, with glimmering synths, a motorik beat, a ton of reverb, and vocals hidden well in the background. It's upbeat, but there's little of the excitement that marked the first side of their debut, even though it follows basically the same pattern (even including a half-hearted quiet part with a vocal chant two-thirds of the way in). It's still a good opener, until you realize that this is really the whole album. It's like you're hearing the same song dressed up in different clothes - sometimes there's a goofy Baroque feel ("Tintarella Di"), sometimes the drums are double tracked ("Lieber Honig 1981", which shares no relation to the song on Neu!'s debut), and sometimes there's a marching rhythm ("Dampfriemen"), but all of the melodies are strikingly similar. Even the slower ones ("Sentimental", "Flashback") simply play the "Menschen" riff in reverse! At least those do offer some respite (the part where a message from Dinger's grandma is played during "Sentimental" is chilling, and "Flashback" really does evoke the memory of Neu!'s first album), and the actual riff is secondary to the atmosphere. That said, the album is so static otherwise that it's tough to figure out what the better tunes are (the closing "Das Yvonnchen" would be good in a vacuum).
Although it feels like a forty-minute victory lap, if you liked the first two La-D albums, the third one is going to be familiar enough that I would imagine you'd get some enjoyment out of it anyway. Even when you strip away the seriousness and inspiration, their sound is agreeable enough to hold up for an entire album, and their propulsive, feel-good atmosphere hasn't been lost. But if the first two albums were bowls of ice cream, this one would be nine Pixie Sticks and a glass of milk. However, if you get the later CD version, there's two bonus tracks from a 1983 maxi-single that would turn out to be the last "official" La Dusseldorf release. "Ich Liebe Dich" may be the best tune on the whole disc, as it sums up the beautiful "longing for the past" feel that they were going for better than any of the album tracks. "Koksknoedel", on the other hand, has a stark, gothic feel, and may have drawn a lot from Joy Division - there's even an odd Ian Curtis-like vocal lurking in the background!
By the way, this is probably a three-star album if you haven't heard the other two. I docked it because it's tough to imagine anyone who isn't going through a Dinger phase reaching for this over La Dusseldorf or Viva. If you liked it on this album, it was almost certainly done better on their previous releases.
Thomas Dinger - Fur Much (1982)
With the future of La Dusseldorf in the air, the younger Dinger brother decided to soldier on with his own album. There are six tracks here, but three of them take up about 90% of the running time, so I might as well just list them - "Ballgefluster" (7:04), "Fur Mich" (9:20), and "E-605" (14:07). Although each one of them has a different feel, they all use fairly similar themes, and are based on the same two chords. "Ballgefluster" has a celebratory, anthemic atmosphere, while "E-605" is much more pastoral, using a metronome and animal noises. The title track is faster paced and a lot catchier, focusing on a rotating melody that wraps around a bouncy rhythm. Still, all three sound like they're part of one giant session, and parts of one may play in your head while you hear the others. This is definitely limited - not just melodically, but instrumentally too. Outside of a rudimentary rhythm section, this is little more than Thomas and his collection of keyboards. Also, the production doesn't feel very professional, as there's a fuzzy basement-level quality to the sound. In spite of all this, the calming, introspective mood makes this a good listen, as it retains some of the more sentimental aspects of La Dusseldorf that were lost over time. Strangely, this resembles Rother's solo work more than it does Klaus's, and the shorter pieces sound like Roedelius! Either way, this is a hidden gem that Neu! fans should track down, and I did consider giving it a higher rating, as it does seem perfect in its own way. Sadly, Thomas didn't continue his solo career from here (perhaps he had nothing more to say?), though he would form the duo 1-A Dusseldorf some 17 years later.
Klaus Dinger + Rheinita Bella Dusseldorf - Neondian (1985)
For all intents and purposes, this is the fourth La Dusseldorf album, though legal problems prevented Dinger from releasing it as such. The disc was rushed out and then pulled only a week later due to low sales, as none of the casual fans had any idea what this album even was, despite Dinger putting the band's biggest hit right in the title (which sure beats the Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe route). But it's done in the same vein as the other La-D albums, and its relative obscurity is a shame. By this time, Dinger was fine with resting on his laurels, even to the point of re-recording old tunes, which make up most of the second side (not the last time he'd do this, mind you). Still, this is a much better album than Individuellos, mostly because the sound is a lot more diverse, and really a lot closer to what you'd expect from a follow up to Viva. There are still some bright-eyed new world anthems ("Mon Amour", "Neondian"), but Dinger has a few more tricks up his sleeve. "America" is nearly a full-on thrash-rocker, with a fast tempo, a lot of noise, and surprisingly pointed lyrics. I say "nearly" because he underscores the whole thing with a goofy keyboard line that takes almost all the seriousness out of the tune, leaving it as one of those songs that's both awesome and unintentionally funny. Meanwhile, Side 2 has a couple of remakes of old La-D songs, including a neutered "Cha Cha 2000" that comes in around seven minutes and has a lot of chirpy synthesizers and reverb. It is not exactly a distraction, but if you've already heard Viva, there's no reason to prefer this version, and I'm not sure why it was included at all. The other is a remake of the single "Ich Liebe Dich", which is at least more justified. This one actually fits in well, as it lies somewhere in between more cinematic, sweeping stuff like "Mon Amour" and catchier synth-rockers like "Pipi AA" and "America".
Overall, the sound here is very similar to Viva, but with half the drums replaced with drum machines and all the piano replaced with digital synths. This actually isn't such a bad thing - Dinger's always had a "human drum machine" vibe in his music so using actual drum machines doesn't take much away. Also, Jaki Liebezeit plays on "Mon Amour", and while it's not quite in his signature style, it doesn't exactly hurt. You can make an argument that Dinger was one of the few who actually knew what to do with those blocky computerized synth noises that dominated the mid-80's, and manages to wring an atypically thick sound out of them. Despite that, this album would have benefitted from a more powerful mix. While it's hard not to feel that Dinger is moving backwards here, the album itself is a plenty enjoyable listen.
Neu! '86 (rec. 1986, released 2010, also as Neu! 4 in 1995)
These are the remains of the comeback album that never was; with La Dusseldorf legally disbanded and Rother's solo career stalling out, the two decided to give their old band another try. The album was never actually completed, but that didn't stop Dinger from randomly releasing it anyway as Neu! 4 in 1995, without Rother's permission. Rother was not too happy about this and wound up compiling his own version in 2010. His is better, especially as it avoids the main problem with these sessions; the majority of this material is based around the same four-chord progression, and Dinger compounds this by sequencing a bunch of them in a row. In a way, there is something fascinating about entering this world of sound, but it's not something you'll want to hear often. You really couldn't make an album out of this, but Rother's attempt is a decent try.
As for the music itself, it's a decent listen, but it's more or less a footnote when compared to the original albums. The all-digital sound is similar to the other stuff Dinger was doing at the time, though it dates itself very quickly. All things considered, it isn't exactly far-removed from "Isi", but the songwriting is not really there. As mentioned above, the hardest part of really editing these sessions into an album is that most of the recordings were more or less based on the same melody. Rother does his best to minimize this by replacing some of that with newly unearthed stuff, some of which is good ("Drive", the only real true motorik track on here), some of which is unfinished ("Paradise Walk", which sounds a lot like one of Andy Partridge's dub experiments). The best material comes when the duo decide to finally rock out again, and the one real standout track ("Crazy") is a dead ringer for Side 2 of Neu! '75. "Good Life" is similar but subdued (with some really wacky vocal effects); otherwise there's some off-beat dance material, which tends to be catchy anyway ("Daenzig"), including a technofied cover of "La Bamba". Overall I can't help but feel that neither Dinger nor Rother got it right - while Rother's album makes more sense as a whole, it drops some of the more resonant material like the African-style "Bush Drum", as well as "Schoene Welle", which has a radiant, saccharine beauty to it. Also, Rother's production is a lot slicker, and while his mix is maybe a bit better as a whole, it takes away a lot of the surrealness from tunes like "Euphoria", even needlessly slowing the tempo down a bit. Overall, I think there's a 3 1/2 star album in here somewhere (and yes, I realize this is the same grade I gave Neu! 2), but it would require a lot of resequencing. Also, if you only have the Neu! albums, check out some La Dusseldorf, Harmonia, or solo Rother before you get this, as otherwise it's hard to parse exactly what they were going for on this release.
La! Neu? - Blue (1987, released 1999)
In the late 90's, Dinger successfully managed to confuse and frustrate most of his fanbase with the La! Neu? project, which was really just an umbrella for KD and pals, releasing several discs that were only available in Japan. As a result, this collection of tunes that was originally supposed to be a follow-up to Neondian was largely ignored, in spite of its deserved subtitle of "La Dusseldorf 5". It's one of those albums that works in spite of a lot of odd choices. Compared to the first La-D albums, the amount of digitalization and reverb on here are off the charts, and the soft, dreamlike textures of Neondian are replaced with sharp, bold sounds. There are some shared themes here and there, but the songwriting is all over the place. The first side is mostly laid back - in fact, the opener "Arms Control Blues" is so relaxed that it feels like it's threatening to put the listener to sleep. Not that it's boring or too quiet, it's just got a really dense and attention-grabbing sound to it, thanks to a thick guitar sound and an insane amount of echo on the drums. But it's hard to feel totally relaxed, as Klaus talks over a lot of it, telling us that he is "working hard on the development of music that will paralyze the military power brokers". If only he had secured a record label willing to release it. Perhaps this is why he's composing tunes that are so enveloping that they feel as though they're designed to be played from the top of a mountain - the stunning "Lilienthal" uses a crisp, euphoric synth tone that feels like it comes at you from miles away. Elsewhere, there's a stupidly catchy pop tune ("Blue") that recycles a small bit of "Cha Cha 2000" and turns it into something that could have been a single, if not for the oddball guest vocalist (Yvi). After a pair of shorter tunes (glam rocker "Touch You Tonight" and the instrumental lulliby "Fur Omi"), we get to the second half, an 18-minute version of "America" that finally makes good on the promise of the second side of Neu! 75. It's recorded live, though there is a whispered part overdubbed, which is a really bad idea since it obscures the original vocal. While the original was tightly controlled and had that goofy synth line, this is done by a 3-piece rock band that lets everything hang out, and like most of the other songs here, the piles of reverb add a lot of power and noise to the mix. Bassist Raoul Walton gives it a big rock groove that the original never had, and since most of this doesn't have vocals, he becomes the focus. The result is the most intense thing Dinger's ever done (or, at least on par with "After Eight"), which makes it much easier to forgive the fact that he recorded this song on his last album, too. As a whole I'm not sure if this really forms a coherent album, and perhaps it was never really intended to be one in the first place (the recording dates span four years). Also, by now it's apparent that Dinger is retreating further and further into his own world with each release. But this is a really good listen, and certainly the most bizarre of the five La Dusseldorf (or Dusseldorf-ish) albums.
Die Engel Des Herrn (1992)
With Dinger finally willing to let the La Dusseldorf name go (for now), he formed a new band that was mostly a partnership with Gerhard Michel, though a one-time La-D member does show up on keyboards (Nikolaus van Rhein). Unfortunately there are very few new ideas on this album. The first thing you will notice is that "Cha Cha 2000" shows up again on the tracklisting. The second thing is that the pretty little harmonium melody that introduces the album sounds an awful lot like "Mon Amour". Indeed, that's what "Die Engel Des Herrn" (the track) is, just with angelic synth vocals replacing the keyboards. There is one short rock tune ("S.O.S."), but this is basically La Dusseldorf on Xanax. "We are the angels, the angels of light. We're making music, and we'll make it right" is the first line on the album, in case you were wondering where these guys were coming from. Another thing you'll have to get used to is Michel's singing, for he has an unusually high voice. Not like say, Jon Anderson or Geddy Lee, but rather like a guy who just decided that he wants to sound like Elmo, outside of a brief section in "S.O.S." where he sounds like Donald Duck instead.
Anyway, this album could have been decent, but there are some major problems with it. For one, as mentioned, there is a distinct lack of new ideas, or really any ideas. In addition to the title track cribbing the melody from "Mon Amour" and another go 'round of "Cha Cha 2000", there are some quotes from other past material, such as "Good Life" in "Little Angel", "Dusseldorf" in "S.O.S.", and "Cha Cha" (again) in "Tschus". There is really just one pop song ("Sunlight"), and other than that and the strange prominance of the synth vocal preset, there is not much that will stick with you even five minutes after this is over. Secondly, the mix seems way off, as the drums come all the way to the forefront, burrowing their way into your head and ruining songs like "Little Angel". Unfortunately, the drummer, Klaus Immig, seems unable to play anything but a standard 4/4 whap-thud beat, and may as well only have one arm. Thirdly, the album ends with an ungodly 20-minute jam ("Die Bengel Des Herrn") that sounds a lot like a recording of the band tuning up their instruments. Eventually, things do get rolling...at the 19-minute mark. Since the version of "Cha Cha" here is unnecessary (unless you love angel synths and lots of vocals at the expense of everything else), the real question is, how are those first six tunes? Mostly short, sometimes oddly charming (Michel's vocal on "Sunlight" is actually quite funny, though not on purpose), usually forgettable, although "Tschus" does ramp things up with a powerful second half, probably the album's best moment. Overall, it just feels like the band is not very good, and the songwriting is usually either lazy or non-existent, though I guess there are enough Dingerisms that it isn't a total loss. This was limited to 1000 copies, most of which didn't sell, and as a result most Dinger fans don't even know that it exists.
Die Engel Des Herrn - Live! As Hippie Punks (1995)
This live album was Dinger's first release on the Japan-based but German-oriented Captain Trip label. Recorded in 1993, it sees Die Engel as a rock band (I'd hesitate to say "punk" here, but whatever), as there are no synths and two guitars, and they actually make an effort to rock out at times. This makes a better case for the band than the studio album did; not only does the band not just sound like a badly tweaked La Dusseldorf, but there are also a few new tunes which are actually pretty good - particularly "The Song", an 11-minute jam which evolves into a long cresendo of raw guitar lines. There's also "The Waltz '93", a catchier tune that was written by Michel (similar to "Sunlight"), and an understated instrumental ("Somewhere"). However, the centerpiece is (what else?) "Cha Cha 2000", which sounds pretty good even without any keyboards, as it clears up room for a long guitar solo and an unexpected violin break. It's really the only song on here that you even need to hear, as everything this band can do is contained within. Still, there are good moments elsewhere, particularly in the noisy finale of "Tschus", which allows the band room to play as fast as they can, showing the kind of intensity they somehow completely missed on the record. Unfortunately, the sound quality is a major issue here, as the entire recording has that 7th-row bootleg feel that saps all the dynamics out of it, which explains the low rating. On the plus side, it isn't really that much worse than the studio album. Oh, and Klaus Immig is still profoundly uncreative drummer, but he's at least passable when forced to play fast. If nothing else, this shows that maybe Die Engel wasn't necessarily a bad group, just one that badly needed a producer.
La! Neu? - Dusseldorf (1996)
By now Dinger realized that he was going to have major difficulties selling records if he couldn't use his old band names. I guess he found a way to solve that problem, but this is a cheap shot; outside of Dinger himself, no former members of Neu! or La Dusseldorf appear, though a couple of guys from Die Engel Das Herrn do. Now firmly entrenched in the CD age, Dinger saw no need to restrict himself at all anymore, and thus this disc contains two long pieces that combine to run nearly an hour, plus a poorly produced ballad that shows up twice. This is not surprising; studio albums always seemed like an afterthought for Dinger, especially the ones that came after Viva, and most La! Neu? releases feel like toss-offs, with little attention given to sequencing or mastering. Let me just make myself clear here; outside of Blue (which is was recorded ten years prior), none of the La! Neu? discs are going to be of interest to anyone but die-hards, so if that's not you, you can probably stop reading here.
Anyway, if you're still here, let's get into it. "Hero 96" is kind of a sequel to the 20-year old Neu! song, but not as good, of course. This time it centers on a bass riff and a steady drumbeat, with a bunch of presumably improvised vocals. Dinger's lyrics are all over the map, sometimes quoting the original, sometimes tossing off disconnected phrases such as "piss on TV", "you are shit", "piss on you", "this is 96", and "capitalism is just as bad as communism, so far", before asking "what about you, David?" (There are no Davids credited on this album). This is the angriest he's ever been on paper, but he hardly raises his voice for any of it, and lyrics aside, the tune is actually quite upbeat. It gets points for unintentional humor. There's a second vocalist, Viktoria Wehrmeister, who mostly stays in the background, and does not really sing as much as she does make "mouth noises", along with the occasional piercing shriek. This all goes on without much variation at all, but at least the groove is a good one, even though the drumkit sounds like it has about two pieces. The 33-minute "D 22.12.95" is better, as it's just a straight up krautrock jam, similar to "America" on Blue, but without a central theme or any vocals. It's not clear who is playing what here, but these reckless, blistering guitar lines are unlike anything I've ever heard Dinger play, and the drums are actually kind of funky. This is the band that Die Engel showed hints of becoming on their live album, and makes a good argument against Dinger trying to actually write songs anymore. This may be better than I'm rating it, but it really isn't much of an album, as "Mayday" is inconsequential (hell, the '96 version is barely audible!), and the big turkeys are both overlong. "D 22.12.95" is longer than "Karn Evil 9", for Christ's sake! That's a long time to stay on the same key. Still, every Neu!/La-D fan should hear this once, and I do think it at least gets things off on the right foot.
La! Neu? - Zeeland (1997)
I often see this listed as a live release, though there's no audience and a minimal lineup. Besides Dinger, the players are keyboardist Andreas Reihse, also a member of Kreidler (who also appeared on the last album), and Wehrmeister, whose vocals are the centerpiece here. Dinger has a few bluesy guitar parts, but mostly stays in the background. The sound here is fairly light and laid back, as most of the tempos are middling and the vocals have a calming effect. Most of the time, it sounds like she is singing nonsense to herself in the shower. Once again, there are some long running times, with four tracks over nine minutes. "Dank Je Sanne" (15:25) focuses on a pogoing keyboard melody and improvised vocals, eventually bringing another keyboard part into the mix, spending the second half playing around with syncopation. "Champagne" (12:57) is basically "fun with studio effects and feedback", anchored by a drum machine tapping out a punk rock rhythm, doubled by synths. Outside of the vocals, Reihse seems to be the main player, as the wild keyboard parts are unlike anything I've heard on any of Dinger's previous releases. He hits on some good ideas, but spends a lot of time trying to find his footing. Maybe the "live" moniker only meant that the group wasn't doing second takes. Everything feels ad-hoc, as though what actually got released was just a collection of personal tapes. As is the pattern with the last few Dinger releases, the sound quality is all over the map, and obvious mistakes like botched notes, cracked vocals, or blasts of feedback are kept in. But the music itself is mostly low-key; there's some balladry ("Satellite of Mine", "Silly Face"), and a few nice ambient passages, such as "Insekt", which has an otherwordly beauty to it. In the end, it comes down mostly to how much of Wehrmeister's vocals you can handle, especially as her approach is the same on pretty much every track. There is some respite in the middle of the album; "Satellite of Mine" is a pleasant distraction that would have fit well on the Die Engel Des Herrn album, and the title track, a simple tune written and sung by Dinger's mother, is so bizarre that it's easy to overlook how bad it sounds. Outside of "Satellite", nothing feels like a completed song, and most of the good stuff just gets run into the ground ("Dank Je Sanne", which is probably the best tune anyway). I wonder how much Dinger actually had to do with this. Frustrating.
La! Neu? - Rembrandt: God Strikes Back (1997)
This one, on the other hand, Dinger had almost nothing to do with (he appears on "New York Grand Master Trash Can" and that's it). Rembrandt was a keyboard player who was presumably a part of the live show, as he's vaguely credited on Zeeland (under "remote control technician" on a 30-second toss-off). Either way he saw fit to record this album under the La! Neu? umbrella, and boy is it a waste of time. Rembrandt himself describes it as a "spontaneous compilation of sound events", which is the first clue to stay away, as nothing good ever comes from descriptions like this. A lot of times there is something neat going on right away, until you realize that this is the whole track; "Techno Billy" is exciting for all of ten seconds until you realize that the entire thing is just going to be him twisting the knobs on the same annoying loop, and there are "sequel" tracks that give you more of the same. It is kind of like Zeeland in that much of the running time is spent searching for a good idea and not developing it, but Rembrandt has even less to work with, as there are close to zero hooks throughout the hour-plus run time. There are 25 tracks here, most of which range from 7 seconds to three minutes, then some longer stuff at the end, if you make it that far. Much of this is either repetition, or an exercise in digital sound manipulation ("God Strikes Back"), which can be interesting, though it is only really done for its own sake. One track is kind of memorable, due to how well it fits its title ("Frog in UFO", using a croaking synth noise), but like everything else, it does not develop past the first ten seconds.
As for the longer stuff, it's better by default, but still excruciating. "Und Dann?" sounds like third-rate Autechre, or perhaps something from Chiastic Slide with half the sound missing. "Information Overload" has a frantic pace and even layers some menacing synths over the top, but is desperately in need of a melody (see also: every other track). "Kiss me Stupid!" is better, as it's a nice piece of ambience that recalls Selected Ambient Works II in a way. All this is pointless to write about, but I have to justify sitting through this multiple times, as it feels like it's about three hours long. Maybe not the worst album I've ever heard, but it's definitely one of the stupidest.
La! Neu? - Cha Cha 2000, Live in Tokyo, 1996, Part 1 (1998)
As the title says, this double disc set documents an incredibly long performance of "Cha Cha 2000" (apparently, the versions on Viva, Neondian, Die Engel Des Herrn, and Live! As Hippie Punks just weren't enough). Let's face it - you know Dinger has always wanted to try this. Given that this occupies 104 minutes, they understandably take it slow, as the first ten minutes are nothing but a quiet piano/vocal section. Drums are slowly pounded, and around the 17-minute mark we get an actual rhythm. The actual melody from "Cha Cha" doesn't start until halfway through the first disc! From there things get pretty wild. The band is Dinger, Wehrmeister, Rembrandt, two ex-members of Die Engel Des Herrn, and half of Kreidler. So once things get rolling, there's plenty to listen to, though much of it is jamming on one chord. Wehrmeister is the X-factor here, as she's like the female Damo Suzuki, chanting mantras in rhythm, speaking in nonsense, and stretching the limits of her vocal chords when you least expect her to.
Disc 1 is mostly build-up; the band does jam for a good stretch, but the best moment is 38 minutes in, when the chorus finally comes in (the part that goes "dance to the future with me"), and the audience explodes. As it turns out, that's actually the second half of the performance, as the discs are reversed for some reason. The second disc is the better one. Here, the song builds and builds to a long climax, dissipates everything, then refocuses and starts over again. It's like scaling the same mountain over and over, but from a different angle each time. As I mentioned in the Live! As Hippie Punks review, the length is not necessarily a problem, because there are several sections to jam on, and nearly everything KD's post-Neu! bands do well is represented here. Plus, it's oddly fun, with a big positive vibe throughout, and at one point Dinger even invites some audience members on stage to sing along. At some points it feels like a communal piece, for example a long section where the audience claps along to a quietly strummed guitar and a tambourine, with some vocals over the top. Lots of spontaneity, in a good way. There are dull sections and a few miscues, but this is engaging all the way through. In fact I'd gladly give this a higher rating, but the recording is done "direct-from-mic" bootleg style, which takes a lot of the depth away, as it makes it tough to really hear what goes on, and can wear on the listener after a while. In addition, the first disc is kind of superfluous, as it's really just a coda to the first half of the show (Disc 2). As they're ordered, it makes some sense, as you kind of get to hear the music build from scratch, but if you listen to this in the proper order, you probably would cut it after the first half, as everything's been done by that point (and plus, you've been listening to "Cha Cha 2000" for about an hour). Still, if you're seriously interested in checking out Dinger's post-La Dusseldorf projects, this is the place to start.
La! Neu? - Goldregen (1998)
This is a collection of quieter, more introspective music, mostly based on piano and some slight vocals, but little else. Music like this is tough to review, since it tends to float in the background and does not feel as though it was designed for active listening, similar to much of Brian Eno's work. The difference is that most of this is improvised instead of arranged, and there are some odd moments such as control room laughter or sound drop-outs. After "Zeeland Wunderbar" (another song that is sung by Dinger's mother), the album is roughly divided into three sections - the first is mostly solo piano with minimal accompaniment (often just a quiet vocal line), sounding like one of Roedelius's many solo albums, but without the technique. The second has more repetitive piano lines and (sometimes) a beat, kind of like a stripped back "Cha Cha 2000". And the third is full of longer pieces that are just harmonium and vocals, this time vaguely following "Mon Amour". Not that the length of the tracks really matter, since they all sound like each other anyway. At some points it seems like one track is them trying to do one thing and screwing up, then the next is the second take on it, and so on. It is oddly relaxing in spots (I'm thinking mostly of the harmonium tracks), but most of the time, you just forget you're listening to anything at all. It feels strange to even rate this, but similar works by Eno hold up much better, and again it feels like this was probably of more interest to the band members than whoever their audience was at this point.
La! Neu? - Year of the Tiger (1998)
You know, KD is really abusing the compact disc format. With vinyl, you had to cut things down to around 45 minutes, and if you didn't, you had to be able to justify releasing a double, which would significantly increase cost. But with a CD, the need to self-edit goes away, as long as you have a label (such as Captain Trip) that's willing to indulge you. On this disc Dinger indulges himself with two long jams, both of which eclipse half an hour. The first of these, "Autoportrait Rembrandt mit Viktoria + Apache" spells it all out in the title, with "Apache" referring to the famous Neu! beat, believe it or not. Forget Goldregen; this is Dinger's real return to the sticks, as he pounds out a pretty vicious echoed beat, which gets processed through Rembrandt's keyboards and accompanied by a little bit of singing. Unlike most of La! Neu?'s stuff, it's actually kind of brutal, in a good way. At some point (the 24 minute mark?), things slow down and Dinger starts playing against a drum machine, and Rembrandt nearly comes up with some kind of melody. I don't mind Viktoria's presence, but Rembrandt's inability to add much besides whirring helicopter noises and echo effects is frustrating, and a good example of why Dinger works best with a guy like Rother or Hans Lampe at his side. "Notre Dame" is a slower, though it has basically the same beat, plus bluesy guitar and a more prominent vocal part. After about 4:30 of this, the song starts to transform, though (as usual) it just loops back on itself. Eventually the only interesting bits is the studio chatter in the background, saved for posterity (and why not). On my copy there are bits where the disc sounds like it's skipping around, which I mention because it may actually be intentional. But otherwise, it's static as hell, and that goes for both the long tracks (there's also a short intro), and the low rating is reflection on that, as this would be quite good if it were, say, confined to one side of an LP. Unlike the Cha Cha 2000 release, there is no build-up or climax; "Autoportrait" only asks "what is Rembrandt going to process this through next?", while "Notre Dame" asks "wait, this is still going?" Still, it's nice to hear the old Neu! beat again, for what it's worth.
La! Neu? - Live in Tokyo 1996 Vol. 2 (1999)
This is the first part of the mammoth concert that produced the Cha Cha 2000 live album. Once again, the sound quality is an issue here (using 2 mics, direct to DAT, aka bootleg style), though it matters less once you get into it. The sad thing is that it muffles a lot of the stage banter, which is actually pretty funny ("You remember Hero 96, right? Or just Hero? It's the same guy...20 years later"), and it makes it tough to make out some of the heavily accented lyrics. Like all La! Neu? releases there is a large amount of improvisation and jamming, and at times there's even some excitement along the way ("Hero 96" finally rocks out at the end, and "America" is always good, even if feels like its done at half-speed here). Given that you can't just "space out" for a half hour in front of a live audience, it shouldn't be a surprise that this band was better live than in studio (also, having 6-7 people on stage helps), and even the looser jams ("East West Special"), are more entertaining than say, the stuff on Year of the Tiger, if only because there is a lot more talent involved. That said, there's a lot of dead space on this 100-minute live album, including three intro tracks which are essentially just conversation, Vicki practicing half-scales, and silence. Somewhere in the middle there's "Message From Calif.", which is an 12 minute segment where they simply play a tape of a friend talking about his own music (it's interesting the first time, I guess), and "Rheinarita", which is virtual silence, though you can turn the volume knob way up and hear a tambourine or something. This is a consequence of not mastering your own damn records - quieter songs like "Mayday" are nearly inaudible unless you play them at high volume, and then, when a ringing guitar chord does come in, it rattles you in your seat. It puts a damper on nearly half the record, and as a result you'll want to skip a lot of the tracks here. So let's just reduce this to the parts you'll actually want to hear - combine "Viva", "Hero 96", "East West Special", and "America" and you'll have a solid hour which could actually replace the first disc of Cha Cha 2000, but let's not kid ourselves here, this is another La! Neu? release that nobody really needs. The band is decent (when they're actually playing) but the sound quality (again) makes this something you won't want to hear often, even if you are skipping around.
La! Neu? - Live at Kunsthalle Dusseldorf (2001)
Perhaps a little overview is in order here. After the break-up of Neu!, Dinger wound up finding success with his new band, La Dusseldorf, selling nearly a million records and getting name checked by David Bowie as the "sound of the eighties". But when the eighties finally rolled around, the band was marked with in-fighting, and their 3rd album Individuellos reflects a lack of basically any new ideas at all. They "broke up" after that - Dinger wanted to continue to release albums under the La Dusseldorf name, but he couldn't legally. So he released the "La Dusseldorf in spirit" 4th LP Neondian as himself, but low sales and controversy over the song "America" caused his label to drop him. From there he wrote and recorded a 5th La-D album which no label was willing to release (Blue, released over a decade later), plus participated in a Neu! reunion that quickly fell apart. His 3rd band was Die Engel Des Herrn, which also did not sell much, though it eventually caught the interest of the head of Captain Trip records, who was a big fan, and basically wound up giving Dinger free reign to release anything he wanted on his label. The result was the band La! Neu?, which was only really active for three years, but wound up releasing seven albums anyway, full of static 30 minute jam sessions, long ambient passages, and whatever "sound events" (as they were described) that the mic picked up, often poorly recorded, with little regard for mastering or engineering. Few of these albums are any good, partly because Dinger was not really interested in writing songs anymore, but mostly because he never seemed to care how they turned out, and in a few cases it's hard to tell what his involvement even was.
Anyway, this is the last of those seven albums, another live one, recorded in 1998. At this point, they was down to the "core members" of Dinger, Dinger's mother, Rembrandt, and Wehrmeister, plus a member of the German band Kowalski. This one's also about 100 minutes long, half of which is given to the Year of the Tiger album, as both "Autoportrait" and "Notre Dame" show up here, both of which seem to work a bit better in a live setting ("Notre Dame" even has an extra guitar part, which the song desperately needed). The rest is mostly piano + vocal tracks, like a live version of Goldregen ("Comme Nuages" is from that album). "The Hit" is a new piece, this time with the Motorik beat, and for once Vicki sings an actual melody, making this resemble a pop song (albeit one that's 14 minutes long). If you get to the end, there's a nice surprise - "Time", which dates all the way back to the first La Dusseldorf album! It's a lot more off the cuff (and faster) than the studio version, and Rembrandt doesn't put the same feel into it that Lampe did, but it's a fitting way to end it all. Overall, the sound quality is better than the Tokyo live albums, but the material doesn't really rock out as much, and in the end there's not much reason to prefer this to the studio albums (which you shouldn't buy either).
Klaus Dinger + Japandorf - Japandorf (2013)
Recorded in 2008, just before Dinger's unfortunate passing due to heart failure. This is another project that he wanted to name "La Dusseldorf" but could not due to legal reasons. This was made mostly in collaboration with his wife Miki Yui, with vocals handled by Dinger and Mazaki Nakao. Essentially it sounds like Dinger's usual sound mixed with J-Pop, which I suppose is a byproduct of the singsongy female vocals on here. Let's get one thing out of the way now - this is better than pretty much all of the 90's La! Neu? stuff, as it features actual songs and rocks out in a structured way, rather than letting freeform airjams take over. There is a lot of guitar on this album, mostly of the relentless, lightly-fuzzed out sort. There are some keyboards and effects here and there but this is rooted in the type of stripped down rock music on which Dinger made his reputation. As you may expect, this does not really forge new ground; it's timeless in the sense that the music could be from the 80's, or the 90's, or the future, and like many Dinger albums it relies on the man's past. In fact, the very first track, "Immermannstrasse" could almost be mistaken for Stereolab! I know what you're thinking, and the answer is yes, there is another take on "Cha Cha" here. It's unique in that it's the first to come after the original's "2000" deadline. This one's a faster, thrashier take that skips a lot of the slower middle part, paring it down to "only" 12 and a half minutes. The other extended track is "Sketch No. 4", a slow, heavy fuzz instrumental that eventually morphs into a take on "Hallo Gallo". There are some tender moments on the album (the acoustic no-production ballad "Osenbe", or "Spacemelo", a sort-of continuation of "Arms Control Blues"), but most of this is lightweight and fun. "Udon" is a good synthpop tune with Dinger signing in Japanese, while "Karnival" is a straight-up major key thrash. The highlight is "Sketch No. 1_b", which is just a big Motorik guitar jam similar to the opening of "D 22.12.95", which portrays exactly the sort of expansive, utopian atmosphere that a lot of DInger's work shoots for. But there are really no bad spots here; the production is good throughout, and the "mistakes" in the recording give the thing a live feel without really detracting from the music. In a way it feels like the "real" continuation of the La Dusseldorf sound rather than the seemingly endless array of meandering, badly produced La! Neu? albums.
I do think the timing of the album is a bit strange; Miki Yui had been hinting at perhaps a 2009 release, back when Dinger's passing had still shaken up the Krautrock fanbase (as his was the first death of a major figurehead in that scene since Michael Karoli). But now, it seems like few are paying attention. Although Dinger's life was full of anguish, in-fighting, and bitterness about the notoriety and fame that somehow eluded him, it is safe to say that the impact of his work has is not only vast but unavoidable. The Neu! sound and the motorik beat are all over the place today, and they have been since what, 1977? Even if few people know the name of Klaus Dinger, there is no denying the man's legacy - "Fur Immer".