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Kraftwerk – The Catalogue

on January 03, 2010, 8:00am
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For anyone accustomed to the CD versions of Kraftwerk‘s albums, The Catalogue is more interesting to the accustomed who are also completists, collectors, and die-hard fans. I am none of the latter but as accustomed as I can be with the CD versions without actually having owned any of them. By the time I started listening to Kraftwerk in my early teens, around 2004-2005, The Catalogue had been circulating as a rumor for quite a while before ultimately being announced by Ralf Hütter himself earlier this year. So that’s why I, metaphorically speaking, soiled myself when I finally brought home and opened this monstrosity of a discography box.

The area of a 12-inch, the thickness of three and a half CD jewel cases and weighing in at approximately five pounds, the only possible reason to moan over such a fine box is over the dilemma of how to make it visible to every visitor of your home, while still protecting it once envy sets in. Let’s face the truth here: You’re not paying for the latest 2000s technology remasters, you’re paying for eight albums for the cost of seven, and the privilege of getting the nearly complete discography in a superficial, yes indeed, but in all its purposeful simplicity magnificent packaging. Even though technical perfection (or at least ability) is one of the many definitions of Kraftwerk’s idea of forward-thinking music, many of its recordings lose that aural vintage retro-futurism shine that vinyl versions or even the CD versions brought, in favor of an immaculate soundscape that perhaps these four robots have dreamed about ever since they were peaking in the middle of the 70’s.

It’s with a bit of disappointment that I have to proclaim that to really enjoy these remasters you have to be an audiophile or, for some reason, own a High-end , with capital “H” and in italics, sound reproduction system. I have spent hours listening to Kraftwerk’s old vinyls on authentic phonographs from the early 40’s and mid-70’s respectively, the compact disc reissues on my own old late 80’s stereo as well as my own new 2008 stereo system, these new remasters on said stereo systems, through my friend’s computer’s surround sound system, in the car, in the Walkman CD player and, importantly and more intimately, in my iPod. I can tell you this much of what I’ve learned from those hours: Unless you call yourself an audiophile and really mean it and are an audiophile while you’re telling me you appreciate the sound of these 2009 remasters, you’re just fooling yourself, baby. If it makes you happy imagining that you can tell the difference between the compact disc reissues (Hell, even the original vinyl versions in most cases!) and The Catalogue‘s time-consuming remaster efforts by just letting the thought of it sink in as you put Autobahn into your home stereo, then that’s great! Never underestimate the influence of the mind. Sure, there’s always some biological factors, although more often than not marginal, of each and owns’ unique anatomic hearing device, but try telling a true audiophile that.

For us normal, “casual” listeners who are fans of Kraftwerk there are nonetheless a few reasons to prefer older formats over the new “clear, crisp Kling Klang sound,” as Hütter himself called it. Dividing the discography into two camps, Autobahn through Trans-Europe Express actually benefit from the vinyl format’s wispy retro-feel while the albums from The Man-Machine and onwards find their true home in polished superficiality, largely due to their themes regarding technology and modern society. But to be honest the differences of the latter album’s sound to earlier reissues are often so small when they do come to the surface that a 2009 remaster is barely motivated. The only time when I was positively struck by the effect of the sound quality was when “Numbers” reappeared as a minimal psy-electro floorfiller, an avant-funk banger from the distant future, through the monster speakers of that ridiculous, expensive and top notch High-end surround sound stereo system I mentioned earlier in the article as a prerequisite for optimal sound experience, that I was extremely lucky to test The Catalogue in.

Yet, none of this really matters when you stand before one of the most influential discographies this world has seen. Through all of those hours trying to understand why and how Kraftwerk’s past sounded in the present in the purely aural perspective I never stopped convincing myself over and over that the joy, fascination, originality, innovation and extreme influence that these four visionary robots’ music has brought generations of music fans still retains its charm and stylistic impact in today’s society and, to a greater extent than many music critics want to admit, music culture. There’s no other explanation than that to why I, who wasn’t even born to experience the 80’s, feel a surge of musical energy and awe at the feet of these electronic pioneers. Kraftwerk is the artistic personification of brilliance and the art of creating masterpieces. No guitar-toting, truth-speaking male or piano-hammering, wailing songstress can ever take that away from them.

There were two great reissue camps in 2009. You buy The Beatles for the fantastic songwriting and the significantly improved sound quality. You buy Kraftwerk for the extreme influence, immense impact, and the true forward-thinking.

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