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Neu! - Vinyl Box

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Artist: Neu!

Album: Vinyl Box

Label: Grönland

Review date: Jul. 26, 2010

It might be a bit melodramatic to say that a man had to die to make this box happen, but there can be no doubt that Klaus Dinger’s passing in 2008 made its realization a whole lot easier. The well-documented friction between guitarist Michael Rother and drummer-guitarist-singer Dinger was both the wellspring of Neu!’s genius and the biggest obstacle to the duo getting anything done after 1975. They’d already been broken up for a couple years by the time they recorded their third LP, Neu! 75, which both summed up their potential and pointed the route that each man would take to the bank over the next decade. They couldn’t agree on how to finish the tracks they recorded during a short-lived reunion 1986; the perpetually hard-up Dinger snuck out his version in the mid-’90s, while Rother has his say with the version that appears in this box and will receive separate release on CD later in the year. They spent most of the ’90s haggling over the business details of their catalog’s CDs, squandering years of free publicity supplied by Stereolab’s rhythm section — which played Neu!’s beats every chance they got — and yielding thousands of sales to bootleggers. The CDs finally came out in 2000, and it was only after Dinger’s fatal heart attack that Rother got into gear to put this thing out.

So how is it? No one’s passing out promos of the box, so I can’t tell you about the pressings, handle the 36-page tome, wield the logo stencil on a nearby wall, or model the T-shirt. I can tell you that in .pdf form the book is pretty swell, if exactly what you’d expect; a lot of nifty pics from back in the day, some nostalgic remembrance, and solemn testimony by various rock stars whose annual cab budget in a non-touring year probably exceeds Dinger’s life-time expenditures for his dental health. And I can also tell you without even placing needle into groove that Neu!, Neu! 2, and Neu! 75 really deserve to be heard on vinyl, because they are such creatures of the LP age. They were organized to make sense as flip-’em-over listening experiences and created with the help of turntables.

The first album operates as two suites, each divided into three tracks that exemplify by turns the tension between Rother’s pastoralism and Dinger’s aggression, as well as their shared fascination with the noise of the city and the thrill of the open road. The latter is, of course, Neu!’s most appropriated element, the Apache beat.

Neu! – “Hallogallo”

A thousand scribes have called it motorik, but that’s not what Dinger called it, and since he could no more copyright his groove than Bo Diddley could “A shave and a haircut, two bits,” let’s at least give him naming rights. Monotonic and subtly variable, apparently endless, it’s one of the great beats of the drum kit era.

The second album is a notorious prank, and also their finest moment. Side one uses that beat as a vehicle for all manner of marvelous manipulation; speed it up, slow it down, turn it up, dub it out, and for a finale, chant over it whilst pounding it into the pavement. The duo worked so hard on it that they ran out of time, so side two features versions of Neu!’s one single played at different speeds.

Neu! 75 is split into a Dinger side that’s as raucous and widescreen as the work he was about to do with La Düsseldorf and a Rother side that crystallizes a sublime blend of graceful melody and minimal rhythm that he mined on a series of solo albums that sold about ten times better than Neu! did at the time.

The rest of the box includes an EP of live recordings from 1972 and the Rother version of Neu! 86. The former indicates that Neu! was sloppy, spontaneous, and not too shackled to the specifics of its recorded legacy when in concert. Rather, they bashed out minimally structured jams…

Neu! – “6 May 72, Part 1”

…fueled by an exhilaration that transcends the audio crudité recording. It’s cool to hear, but doesn’t tell an essential side to the story in the same way that the Velvet Underground’s Live 69 and The Quine Tapes do.

But it certainly doesn’t deliver the tragic news carved into the grooves of Neu! 1986. Because if the first three LPs transcended the bloat, technocracy, and malaise of their time, 1986 is thoroughly encumbered by sonic clichés and bad decisions as short shelf-lived and of their time as a Member’s Only jacket. Flabby synths and gated drums mar several tunes; others sound like by-the-numbers Rother jingles, pumped up and hollow inside, or wind-up toy versions of La Düsseldorf; and the nadir is an electro version of “La Bamba.”

Neu! – “La Bomba”

The chemistry was gone, and in its place all Dinger and Rother could muster was a your-turn, my-turn compendium of what each could do on their own rather than a rekindling of what they once could do together.

By Bill Meyer

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