Neu! – NEU! Vinyl Box Groenland Records/High Wire Music
7.23.10 Wildly unhinged and tightly controlled. Constantly swinging between those two poles is where you will find the music of NEU! Formed in the chaotic atmosphere of the early 70’s, Anarcho-Communist, Baader-Meinhof world of Germany; the band was initially a like-minded split from an early version of Kraftwerk by Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. They released 3 albums during the first phase of their career and although they met with little commercial success their influence was disproportionally enormous. With this new release from Groenland Records the new fan is met with an embarrassment of riches and the already committed will find much new to love.
The box contains the classic Neu! “Cannon”; NEU!, NEU! 2, NEU! '75 but goes further by collecting, for a first time release, NEU! '86, NEU! '72 (previously unreleased live 18 minute maxi-single), a 36-page picture book, a stencil of the NEU! logo, a NEU! T-shirt, and finally a digital download code. A completely satisfying aesthetic experience, this box set encapsulates the whole NEU! experience and then some. If you’ve ever wondered why bands from P.I.L. to Radiohead to Stereolab list them as seminal influences, even a casual dipping into this treasure trove will answer the query. The book contains the story of NEU! But also has wonderful and never before seen photos by Anton Corbijn and Peter Lindbergh.
When a band as both unknown and legendary as NEU! opens the floodgates like this there is an unspoken code of non-questioning acceptance that is both problematic and disingenuous. While there is no question that the three original albums by NEU! are singular works of genius, the material on NEU! ’86 is uneven and helps to illustrate perhaps why the band broke apart in the first place. At the center of the NEU! sound is the dynamic tension between drone and pulse. Their inventive and propulsive, “Motorik” beat drum patterns are overlaid with numerous guitar overdubs to create a hypnotic chugging yet oddly static sounds. They deconstruct the usual rock song format, with its verses, choruses, intros and changes, stripping it down to a single minimalist 4/4 beat, which is repeated continuously throughout entire tracks. The layered guitars then slowly shift the timbral focus by subtle changes in tone. Vocals, when there are any, are mainly shouted sounds and unintelligible syllables. Within this frame of sound NEU! is without compare. They are also equally at home in the more ambient aspects of their sonic explorations. That being said much of NEU! ’86 is a mish-mash of proto-Techno beats, slices of New Wave and Disco with none of the attack or focus of other releases. Much more satisfying is the NEU! ’72 non-public test maxi-single. This is an amazing document of the band in full flight during a 1972 concert in Dusseldorf.
There is much to love in this vast collection. At the very least it gives listeners a complete picture of original creativity in action. So often artistic innovators are unheard during their lifespan. While this is a shameful indictment of the lack of openness on behalf of public taste, we at least have the advantage of access to collections such as this. As Lord Buckley used to say, “Knock me your lobes”. Your lobes will be glad to have been knocked by this heavenly racket.