Review: NEU! 4
Originally featured in the article 'Activity - In Depth' from Aktivität 8, August 1996
Originally recorded between October 85 - April 86, these recordings have been on the shelf for almost a decade before the CD’s compilation in October 1995 and subsequent release. A Japanese-only CD, it has appeared on these shores as a rather expensive import, tempting the curious. And at upwards of £24, you’ll maybe want to know a bit more before buying...
Anyway ... tracks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13 seem to be various very different arrangements of what is basically the same tune/set of chord progressions. Most seem to be rather directionless, very 80’s in their use of cheery synth presets and drum machines - not very NEU! at all. Some are noisy synth-mangling pieces, with the familiar tune only just recognisable. The better versions are the ones that reveal some of the more recognisable NEU! touches - the simplistic, rapt drumming of Klaus Dinger and the crisp, clean-lined guitar riffs courtesy of Michael Rother. In that respect, my own favourite was ‘Crazy’, the second track. Whereas the fourth track ‘Schöne Welle (Nice Wave)’ sounds far too sweet and saccharine and overfed on antiseptic synths and drum machine. Hardly NEU!, more like an on-board demo for the keyboard!
There are 6 other tracks. The albums opening and closing tracks are one and the same except that the final one is played backwards. It is in fact the German national anthem, played at half speed. Transformed from a familiar orchestral anthem into a slowed-down, smeared wash of sound with enough reverb to make the Cocteau Twins sound like a pub band! Spooky, but very atmospheric, stuff. ‘Dänzing’ and ‘La Bomba’ are fairly different from each other but are both very much keyboard and electronic percussion dance-beat driven slices of would-be synth-pop. ‘La Bomba’ is quite ethnic flavoured in fact, dragged back into the NEU! realm with heavy flanger effects added, a la ‘E-Musik’ from ‘NEU! ‘75’. ‘Dänzing’ has mid-80s written all over it though, like much of the album in fact - mainly it's the ersatz drum machine sounds but also many of the synth sounds which are just too much like easily chosen presets.
This leaves us with ‘Bush-Drum’ and ’86 Commercial Trash’. The former is built on a bass pulse with very Mike Oldfield-like guitar lines weaved over this. Rather nice, in a minimal way. ’86 Commercial Trash’ is nothing other than selected German TV adverts spliced together!
An odd release, difficult to imagine it as an actual ‘finished’ album. So many of the tracks seem to be one set of chords in search of an increasingly elusive final arrangement, as if the band are desperately seeking what it is they are needing to sound like. I don’t know the background to these recordings, whether Rother and Dinger decided to get back together to explore some unfinished business as NEU!, or whether it was a ‘let’s see what happens now’ one-off. The music itself reveals why it has taken almost 10 years to see the light of day, largely a directionless, mixed up attempt at being NEU! once more, but not really working, or only in brief glimpses. And you can see this referred to by Klaus Dinger in his notes that accompany the release, as well as explanations for some of the issues currently surrounding both this release and the bootleg CDs. Warning of the bootleg CDs available and to wait for their official release, it is also rather odd in places (referring to the growing bootleg campaign, such as "a certain Julian Cope wearing illegal NEU! t-shirts on BBC "Top Of The Pops"!) . Also worth noting is the reference to the lack of Conny Plank as ‘mediator’, perhaps a very important part of the NEU! equation that is missing and hence why the album is not quite up to scratch.
Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010