The first question one might ask about Minimum-Maximum, the new double CD recorded by German robot-pop legends Kraftwerk on their 2004 world tour is, “why a live album?” Isn’t there something counterintuitive about a band famous for its meticulous studio constructions releasing a concert album?
Of course, Kraftwerk has been taking the counterintuitive and turning it into gold for over three decades now, so it should come as no surprise that Minimum-Maximum works exceptionally well both as a live document and as a thorough greatest hits collection.
Kraftwerk, formed in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, grew out of the same German experimental movement that spawned groups like Can and Tangerine Dream. It is not an overstatement to say that Hütter and Schneider, pioneers of an entirely electronic approach to music-making, made Kraftwerk one of the most influential bands in rock history. Their music is directly or indirectly responsible for techno, electronica, industrial and, because the melody of “Trans Europe Express” formed the backbone of Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 mega-hit “Planet Rock,” hip-hop as well. The dance floors of the world would be a very different place indeed, if not for Kraftwerk.
Minimum-Maximum covers Kraftwerk’s career from 1974′s Autobahn up to the present, with special emphasis on 2003′s Tour de France Soundtracks. As a greatest hits collection, its two hours of music cover all the bases, although Kraftwerk purists might have hoped for more material from the 1970s.
As a concert album, it lacks many of the bells and whistles that other live recordings might have, such as between-song banter. Most of the songs are faithful to their original versions, with a few exceptions such as a reworked versions of “Radioactivity” and “The Robots.”
It is, however, the best-sounding live album I’ve ever heard, bar none. The recording quality is amazing and sounds as if it could have been recorded in a studio. While crowd noise is kept to a minimum, the truly brilliant effect of the live setting is to add a human response to this austere, robotic music, generating actual warmth, which is more than could be said for Kraftwerk’s studio albums.
Minimum-Maximum focuses on performances given in Eastern Europe, but has tracks recorded all over the world. There is an added thrill in hearing the audience respond to “Tour de France” in Paris and “Autobahn” in Berlin. The most enthusiastic response, by far, is to the Japanese-language “Dentaku” as performed in front of an ecstatic Tokyo audience who belt out the lyrics along with the group.
Kraftwerk have just wrapped up a few tour dates in the U.S. and are touring Europe this summer. Check their website for details.