Negativland, from Neu!’s first, self-titled album is a near ten-minute odyssey of prog-infused Krautrock.
Beginning with the sound of juddering road drills fighting for ear space with electronically-treated voices and crowd effects, it creeps up on you in a rush of linear feedback that gives way to its simple, steam-powered groove. Bringing to mind Bowie’s title track from Station To Station, it’s all repeating bass lines and simple drum patterns; long, straight and endless – proper head music for the cross-legged longhairs and wispy beard-strokers of the world.
Over the course of the track, the rhythm rarely changes. There’s a brief spell in the middle and again towards the end when the rhythm section hits downhill without the brakes on and moves into second and what might even be third gear, but just as things seem like they might be getting out of control, they reign it all in again and bring us back to the groove. It’s not repetition, as self-confessed Neu! fan Mark E Smith might’ve said, it’s discipline.
The melody on top, the colour, is provided by wind-tunnel effect guitars redolent of that whooshing Leckie-produced ambience that colours much of the Stone Roses’ debut album. There are no vocals. Vocals, clearly, are for wimps. Featuring just two members – Michael Rother on guitar and bass and Klaus Dinger on spartan drums – with heads down and minds locked, there was never going to be anything as conventional as a vocalist, at least, not until the closing track on the album, if indeed sporadic, whispered, strangulated mutterings are your idea of vocals. Rother and Dinger had left an early incarnation of Kraftwerk to form Neu! and where their former band would go on to pioneer the use of synths, so too would Neu! push the boundaries of what was possible with guitars.
As Julian Cope says of the band in his essential reference Krautrocksampler,
‘The sound that replaced the hectic stop/start of the Kraftwerk trio was an ambient bassless White-light Pop-rock mantra that steadied itself directly between the two extremes of Bubblegum music and the extreme German experimental music.
Neu! was the product of two young Master-magicians who had so grabbed hold of the creative ‘moment’ in the studio as to create a true jewel of an LP.’
It’s a record that’s not for everyone, Neu!’s debut, but if you get it, you really get it. Minimal, with clean lines and no clutter, from its day-go logo sleeve in it’s the very antithesis of the bloated, overblown, hobbits and goblins musical landscape of the era. You’ll hear its influence ring true in the records of the aforementioned Bowie as well as the ambient scrapings of PIL – check out Albatross – and the electro-fried stylings of Stereolab.
Negativland and the rest of Neu! (with a side order of Sister Ray) is clearly to art-rock what Black Sabbath (and a side order of Blue Cheer) were to metal – gate-opening, trailblazing and quite unique.
You knew that already though.