Kraftwerk – Minimum-Maximum

This is already one of my all-time favorite live albums, though I can’t readily explain why. Unlike the typical concert document, there’s no exaggerated posturing on the part of the musicians, no “We love you, St. Louis!!,” no extended solos, and neither flashpots nor fireworks exploding during the finale. There’s no finale at all, in fact. The crowd isn’t screaming their throats raw, whipped into a nonsensical frenzy a la Live at Budokan – apart from some rather distant cheering between and occasionally during the musical selections, you might not even notice the presence of an audience, as at some point its cresting soundwaves just seem to become a part of the buzzing ambiance. And the songs themselves are nearly indistinguishable from their already-released studio versions, and they’re not really the sorts of things you’d think would translate all that well to a live setting anyway. So there are two discs, nearly two hours’ worth of that. Hey, I can’t justify it in terms that make conventional, accepted sense, but I’m telling you, this album thrills me. I’ve been playing it all the time since it came out.

Groundbreakers in the electronic music field, Kraftwerk are certainly legendary for good reason, but I can’t really fathom what exactly they do live except push buttons in the correct sequence. That doesn’t seem like it’d be all that enthralling to experience, and I’ve never seen them in concert, but from all I can gather their presence is quite commanding. (A dazzling film backdrop, sound effects and effective lighting certainly don’t hurt.) There’s something undeniably creepy about Kraftwerk’s music. I like that. It’s also uniquely playful, which is an attribute few seem to recognize. For all the deadpan, computerized minimalism of their songs, they’re also fairly silly, and I don’t think that’s necessarily unintentional.

But the music of Kraftwerk has also lasted – it still sounds magnificent, awe-inspiring, cool and current, which is something few electro-pop groups can boast. And without us even noticing, their man-machinery has seeped its way into our consciousness. Even if you’re not a fan, I think you’ll be fairly amazed at how much of this music sounds familiar. You’ve heard it, at some point in your life, whether or not you knew of its source.

Recorded in various cities around the globe (a piece from San Francisco is the sole US contribution), Minimum-Maximum also in essence doubles as a thorough best-of collection for Kraftwerk, which is another reason I like it so much. On two CDs you have a readymade history of German computer-age pop muzik, sequenced to please. The only button you have to push is the one that says “play.”