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Review: Various Artists - 'Trancewerk Express Volume 2'

Various Artists - 'Trancewerk Express Volume 2' (Hypnotic/Cleopatra)
Originally featured in the article 'Activity - In Depth' from Aktivität 9, September 1997

Cover art for the 'Trancewerk Express Volume 2 CDReleased earlier this year (1997), this second volume of especially recorded Kraftwerk cover versions follows on in a far better fashion from the largely uninspired Volume 1 from 1995. Like the previous volume, proceedings commence with an intro, on this occasion supplied by Martin O. Set against a recreated snippet from ‘Computer World’ (Part 1), the inevitable electronic voice intones the following manifesto...

"This is a Kraftwerk tribute... Martin O continues the story from Trancewerk Express Volume 1... The artists on this album did their tribute to the pioneers of electronic music, music from synthesizers controlled by computers... In the magnetic field of waveforms, oscillators and filters, Kraftwerk classics has been transformed into images of a Tranceworld... a world of sound and energy... Welcome to Kraftworld"

The opening rendition however is not so much a cover version as more of an ‘inspired by’ number. ‘Airwave’ by Martin O is a fairly jaunty mild techno workout whose only resemblance to ‘Airwaves; itself that I could discern was a vague similarity in some of the chords that flit in and out occasionally. In terms of the vocals, there are none of the original lyric, but there are some occasional samples of American voices. Not too bad at all, with a similarity in vibe to, for example, the ‘Mix’ version of ‘Pocket Calculator’ for instance, though the electronic percussion is a million miles away from Kraftwerk’s own unique style.

‘Ruckzuck’ by Robotron wanders into a harsher, metallic void. Initially reminded me of Orbital in their more manic workouts such as ‘P.E.T.R.O.L.’. Contains some very Kraftwerky electronic percussion samples, most impressive. Ruckzuck itself can be identified from the flute riff that pops up here and there, trying to elbow itself in against the metallic synths and disjointed sounds. Not a million miles away from the Technocrats take on ‘Ruckzuck’ from their 1993 cover version. (Actually, it is one of The Technocrats verions, but with a different name - IC)

‘The Man Machine’ is, of all the tracks covered here, by far the most faithful to the original. A very nice bass synth adds depth to proceedings, with a fair approximation of the original jerky electronic tune present and correct as well as the unmistakeable ‘Man Machine’ rhythmical pulse. Unfortunately, I found the vocals a let down; rather than use a straight electronic vocoded/computer generated source, a watery blur seems to smear them a fair bit, somehow not quite convincing.

‘Sex Object’ by O T Zehn. Well, it’s not quite ‘Sex Object’ - more of a mish mash of ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘Sex Object’ set against a fairly pedestrian house backbeat and squeezy little 303 bass squiggles. The main melodies of ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘Sex Object’ are picked out in string samples.

Interfaith’s take on Tour De France’ opens with an extended, rhythmless interlude just like Kraftwerk themselves have been playing it live, before a clanky, metallic backbeat bounces in. Like ‘The Man Machine’, this is pretty faithful to the familiar Kraftwerk shape, though the main melody is bent a little askew, which makes for a plausible diversion. And, unlike the vast majority of renditions here, the vocals from the original are retained, on this occasion intoned in a breathy, French female manner. Sometimes, things don’t quite work, the rhythmical breathing samples for example seem a bit weedy here and may have been better left out altogether.

‘Numbers’ - Pygmy Taxi Group is an intriguing amalgamation of numerous Kraftwerk signatures - set against a mid-tempo house beat, the backdrop has traces of the ‘Mix’ version of ‘The Robots’ in snatches, while there are very appealing ‘Home Computer’-like interludes rising up constantly in the background with even a rhythmical shade of ‘Radioactivity’ present towards the back end of the song. Inevitably, there are plenty of the electronic voices intoning the numerous linguistic counts. A new tune altogether is added, which obviously has nothing in common with the original ‘Numbers’ until the end that is, when it mutates into shades of ‘It’s More Fun To Compute’.

This is followed by an unlisted track, which is a continuation of the ‘Intro’ in fact.

‘Pocket Calculator’ by Voight Kampff commences as a very laid back groove with soft string pads layered in the background, the only real similarity with ‘Pocket Calculator’ itself is from traces of the songs melody picked out occasionally in a piano sample. The track changes altogether after four minutes or so, into a faster four/four beat workout, with a vague similarity in the sequenced rhythmical backing but once more it is the occasional melody itself where the only real discernible trace of the original can be identified. Once again, instrumental - with only the occasional electronic vocal snatch of ‘digital’ to be heard.

'Kometenmelodie' by OT Zehn completes the album. Quite a faithful rendition of both halves of the original opus; the quieter opening half is very similar indeed to the original, but shorter, with heavily effected electronic vocal samples flitting in and out of the background. The track really gets going with the more uptempo half - the shuffling rhythm, not a million miles away from the treatment to ‘Autobahn’ on ‘The Mix’ - one can imagine that this may not be a million miles away from how Kraftwerk themselves may have approached their re-worked version, had it been one of the selections for 'The Mix'. Set against a nicely sequenced bass-synth rhythm bed, the original melody is picked out in a more slinky fashion, notes slipping here and there, with the ethereal choral samples in the mid-distance adding a further echo to the original rendition.

An album like this is inevitably going to appeal to some and leave others cold. On the one hand, if you’re new to Kraftwerk these can be seen as adding a contemporary slant on Kraftwerk material from another era altogether (‘Ruckzuck’, ‘Kometenmelodie’, ‘Airwaves’), sugaring those tracks that in their original form are perhaps just too far removed from the glossy, digital shapes of ‘The Mix’. On the other hand, you can easily view these as being a poor echo of the Kraftwerk classics, with contemporary but highly bland sounds and rhythms replacing what is essentially the vital Kraftwerk ingredient - the basic but instantly identifiable trademark sound and rhythms. To my ears this is a far more satisfying selection than volume 1 was, but I would still urge you to approach with caution; if you’re precious about the uniquely Kraftwerk flavours of the originals you may well come away with a bitter taste. However, if you just can’t get into the early Kraftwerk material in its original state, a couple of the versions here may just sugar the pill enough to give you the necessary insights for later re-investigation.

Tracklisting; ‘Intro’ - Martin O, ‘Airwave’ - Martin O, ‘Ruckzuck’ - Robotron, The Man Machine’ - Zero Gravity, ‘Sex Object’ - O T Zehn, ‘Tour De France’ - Interfaith, ‘Numbers’ - Pygmy Taxi Group, Unlisted track, ‘Pocket Calculator’ - Voight Kampff, ‘Kometenmelodie’ by OT Zehn

Author: IC

  Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010