I will never forget the first Laibach disc I ever owned, Let It Be. They covered the entire Beatles album, minus the title track and “Maggie Mae,” and did much of it in sort of a German military march style. The idea was brilliant, as was the end result. Yet when I played it for people, they responded with a look of utter bewilderment. It was then that I knew for sure that my taste was a little out of the ordinary.
The thing about Let It Be was that it was conceptual, like everything they do. In 1984, Laibach were founding members of the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective. The name “Laibach” is the German name for Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana. If you “got” the point, the album made sense. If you did not, it was basically a desecration.
One of the stated goals of the band was to take back Slovenian culture. It was a mighty tall order when they began in 1980, but they have soldiered on, and are now in their 32nd year. The new An Introduction To… program from Mute are remastered “greatest hits” collections from various artists. Laibach were among the first to be chosen for the series.
An Introduction To… Laibach contains 15 tracks, many of which are cover versions. These include two from the Let It Be album, “Get Back,” and “Across the Universe,” which just happen to be my two personal favorites from it. “Get Back” is a scream, one of those tunes that once you have heard it, you will never forget it. Most of the material has been previously released, but there are two new recordings. These are “Warme Lederhaut,” which was made famous by Grace Jones as “Warm Leatherette,” and Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
When Laibach cover a song, they make it their own, without a shadow of a doubt. I must admit that in the past few years I have not really kept up with the group, to my own detriment. For anyone who was around in the hair metal days, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” was one of the most ridiculous hits ever. Sorry if you were a fan, but really “The Final Countdown” was almost a parody of itself, it was so over the top. In other words, a perfect candidate for the Laibach treatment. Hell, it is so wild, it’s reason enough to get this Introduction.
I remember one very fun collection that they oversaw in 1994 titled Trans-Slovenia Express, which was a batch of Kraftwerk covers, all from Slovenian bands. In 2005, Trans-Slovenia Express 2 was released, and their ”Bruderschaft” is included here.
Before the online world made getting music such a simple process (and I am referring to actually paying for it, not file-sharing), finding Laibach product could be rather difficult. Even in a store like Tower, who prided themselves on carrying deep catalog, it was often difficult to find much in the Laibach section. Consequently, there is a fair amount of their material which I have always coveted. An Introduction To… is quite clearly a sampler, and it does its job admirably.
In 1993 I saw Laibach for the first and (so far) only time, and it was a pretty great show. The “opening” was a screening of their film Laibach: A Film From Slovenia (1993), then they performed. At the time, I was writing for a local bi-weekly magazine, and wanted to review the concert. I’ll never forget my editor’s response, “I hate them.” I just started laughing, and asked him why. He never gave me a straight answer, just something along the lines of “I just don’t like ‘em.”
Thinking about it later, it was pretty clear that he took their whole “storm-trooper” imagery literally, and really thought they were pro-fascists or something. Well, they never break character, but come on! I mean, it is sort of a unique form of protest, but that was Laibach. Look, I could see a Poison fan not really understanding what they were all about, but this was a guy who was smart, had good taste in music, and also happened to be editing the main Seattle music magazine at the time the world was worshipping our grunge bands. I still cannot believe that the whole point of Laibach sailed right over his head.
I still sound bitter. Well, I got over it, but that is my little gripe because I never did get to publicly express my admiration of Laibach. I never even bothered to write the review, because I knew that it would not be published. So, nearly 20 years later, here is my opportunity to publicly state my allegiance to Laibach.
The earliest tracks on the set are from their 1987 Opus Dei album. The band have not lost their special touch, as the new recordings of “Warm Lederhaut” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” prove. If Laibach are one of those bands that you have heard of, but have never actually heard, I can think of no better place to begin. Congratulations to Mute for an excellent series with these An Introduction To… collections, they offer a marvelous opportunity for the curious to get their feet wet. Based on the quality of this Laibach set, they are off to a terrific start.