Album Review: Karl Bartos


Karl Bartos -‘Off The Record’ (Bureau B)

Karl Bartos was one quarter of what is regarded as the classic line-up of Kraftwerk between 1975-1990. Whilst his former bandmates are touring the classic albums (and bringing the Tate’s box office into meltdown), he has given the world a new album.

Does it sound like Kraftwerk? Well, yes it does, and to be honest, I think most people would be disappointed if it didn’t. And when the sound that he helped create laid the blueprint for so much of what happened (let’s see: house, hip-hop and electro, post-punk, techno…this could be a whole PhD thesis, and in fact it probably is), then why not?

The reason for the name of the album is that during Kraftwerk’s heyday he kept what the press release describes as a ‘secret acoustic diary.’ This consisted of melodies, chord, sounds and the like which has produced these twelve new songs.

Given that this could have end up with an album that felt like half-baked doodles from the cutting room floor (and these are frequently served up to the world as ‘mixtapes’ now), it’s all the more impressive that this holds together as a coherent album. Whilst I personally could pass on ‘Vox Humana’ , there’s s much on offer here – opening track ‘Atomium’, ‘ International Velvet’ and ‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ that feel like glorious POP songs.

This could have felt like a difficult album, so kudos is due once again to Herr Bartos for producing such a strong, listenable and enjoyable record.


Off The Record is released on Bureau B on March 18.


33 1/3 Part 16


Kraftwerk – ‘The Man Machine’ (EMI, 1978)

In the grand scheme of things, this may not be the most important Kraftwerk record ever released; and both Autobahn and Trans Europe Express have much to recommend them. But it’s my favourite, and that’s why I’ve picked this album by my favourite german band ever, and one of the most influential acts EVER.

I first heard this album in about the second year of university, when I borrowed the tape off someone, which they never got back (Mark, you still owe me £35, but as my intro to Kraftwerk I guess we’re fair and square). The tape has died, after much play; replaced on CD which was then passed onto my brother when I found a vinyl copy. So on a personal level, it’s an album I feel essential to own and listen to regularly.

It works on so many different levels: yes, it’s groundbreaking music full stop, and it’s hard to imagine much of what would happen over the next thirty years without it. Not an electric guitar in sight (well, hearing). And for once, instead of Europeans plundering the music of African-Americans and then selling it back to White Americans, this was genuinely original music, and folks everywhere were sitting up and listening. It’s dated phenomenally well, even if you don’t have a snazzy remaster.

It’s also a fantastic album to listen to whilst travelling. I can definitely trace a growing interest in so-called Krautrock (am i the only person who finds that term slightly uncomfortable?) to hearing this album – Can, Faust, Neu! Harmonia etc.. My suggestions that we spent a holiday driving up and down German motorways listen to German bands have not been well received. Never mind…The influences on bands as diverse as Joy Division and Air can be found here, not to mention pretty much everything that’s come under the heading of dance and electronica – techno, electro, trance to say nothing of Hip-Hop …hell, Kraftwerk were ahead of punk and disco, no-wave: you name it.

Oh, and it’s a fantastic bloody pop album. ‘The Model’ is a great tune full stop, as covered with wildly different arrangements by Big Black (noise rock) and Canasta (twee pop).

Kraftwerk -‘Spacelab.’ mp3

How different would music have turned out without this track?

Kraftwerk -‘Trans Europe Express.’

I know this might be heresy, but I’m starting to wonder if Kraftwerk might actually have been more important than the Sex Pistols…Don’t get me wrong, the Pistols changed a hell of a lot in the music industry, but to listen to Kraftwerk is like seeing a prediction for the next thirty years of music. Without this song…imagine how post-punk, hiphop, pretty much anything from the dance scene from Aphex Twin to trance would have turned out so differently. Like an omelette without eggs…

Perhaps Public Image Ltd. were ultimately more important than the Sex Pistols? Discuss. I don’t know how much of an influence Kraftwerk had on PIL, but I think they must have seeped through in some way.

P.I.L. -‘Death Disco.’

BTW…(final thought before stumbling off to bed)…is this 80s cheese or a seminal track?

Ultravox -‘Vienna.’