Before there was Daft Punk, there was Kraftwerk. The storied German electronica pioneers were playing with vocoders and pretending to be robots decades before the French duo picked up their LED-infused helmets.
But Kraftwerk wasn’t always the inorganic collective they’re remembered for. And while Autobahn is the first album to feature their signature robotic sound, it doesn’t stay there forever.
Autobahn is best remembered of the 22-minute title track that takes up the whole of side A. It is an opus bent on capturing the feeling of driving across Germany on the eponymous superhighway.
And despite being a repetitive twenty-minute electronica track with only six lyrics (“fun fun fun on the Autobahn”), it manages to avoid being boring. It shifts between a few recurring motifs, interrupting them occasionally with simulated road noise. A metronomic Motorik beat carries the piece through the different themes, perfectly emulating the feel of a drive through the countryside.
Side B is a little less tidy. “Kometenmelodie 1” (Comet Melody) is a percussion-less track of swelling synths. “Kometenmelodie 2” adds the Motorik beat and a high pitched lead line. “Mitternacht” (Midnight) is an unsettling ambient track. A single bass synth line is repeated, while echo-drowned strings and synth static howl between phrases. “Morganspeizergang” (Morning Walk) is led by a cheerful flute melody, repeating as background synths, piano, and more flutes jump in.
At times, the two sides sound like they don’t even exist on the same planet, let alone the same band. And for this reason, Autobahn is perhaps the most human Kraftwerk album. They are neither the Man-Machines they would become nor the unapproachable avant-gardians of their earlier albums. Instead, it’s a group of musicians reaching out to create something special. And in the twenty-two minutes of the title track, they wrote the blueprint for their future selves.