Now we’re full of energy: the best of Kraftwerk

“Radio-activity/is in the air for you and me” is a jingle that if he had a cerebral cortex unscarred by petrodollars Scott Pruitt would license for PSAs endorsing offshore drilling and polluting streams. Immobile emotionalists regarded initially with suspicion by Americans who think guitars aren’t electronic instruments, Kraftwerk became cool referents in 1977 and haven’t looked back. Watching four simulants mimic human movement at the Fillmore Miami Beach theater in fall 2004 was one of the grandest concert experiences of my life, and to my ears they had modernized their sound not one note. The wild, thin mercury sound credited to Bob Dylan? Drop “wild” and the description fits Kraftwerk more snugly: a metal tube tapping a glass table.

Below is a brief list of their shiniest objects. For all their influence, Kraftwerk didn’t record an album with the spirit and — as Germans this French word will offend them — jouissance of descendants like Human League, Ultravox, Gary Numan, and, yeah, Bowie and Iggy. Hip-hop acts understood them. So did early techno. The cleanness of their beats and the simplicity of their synthesizer lines boasted an impressive adaptability to any electronic context. In Miami, where “Tour de France” got airplay, radio programmers stuck’em between Debbie Deb and Eddie Grant and no one blinked. So much for jingoism.

1. Computer Love
2. Trans-Europe Express
3. Autobahn
4. The Robots
5. The Model
6. Kometenmelodie 2
7. Radioactivity
8. The Man-Machine
9. Showroom Dummies
10. Europe Endless
11. Neon Lights
12. Numbers
13. Musique Non Stop
14. Space Lab
15. Tour de France

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