Sunday, 1 March 2009

1982 Kraftwerk: The Model

For my money, the genius of Kraftwerk was their ability to render precise, mathematical electronic music into something fluid; music that is all French curves rather than set squares and in practical terms it's the difference between the lumbering T-101 Terminator sounds of lesser bands and the smooth liquid T-1000 model that can shape itself to its environment. Which is what 'The Model' did in the musical landscape of 1982, despite being a four year old album track originally intended as the B side to 'Computer Love'.

In the Kraftwerk canon, 'The Model' is fairly unique in that it's quite short and utilises the traditional common structure of popular music. Allegedly inspired by Ralf Hutter's obsession for model Christa Becker, 'The Model' describes the lifestyle of the eponymous female in a stalkerish yet detached third person manner.

Unlike, say, 'Tainted Love', 'The Model' does not sound like someone singing over an electronic backing. In the hands of Kraftwerk, Hutter's dispassionate, emotionless vocals sound like they are emerging from the machines themselves as a by product of them going about the ruthlessly efficient business of producing the music. And it couldn't be any other way:

"She's a model and she's looking good
I'd like to take her home that's understood"

If these lyrics were sung straight then the whole thing would be relegated to ranks of the novelty act, but it's the complete and almost inhuman lack of interest that makes them so interesting. Hutter is casually observing and commenting on an attractive woman in cold machine logic rather than exclaiming 'look at the tits on that babe'.

"I saw her on the cover of a magazine
Now she's a big success, I want to meet her again"

The history of rock and roll is built around various notions of sex and shagging but the attraction here is not sexual, it's rendered almost as scientific fact in much the way that polar ends of a magnet will attract and you simply cannot imagine a Mick Jagger or a Bono or an N.E.Other 'rock star' approaching the subject in anything like the same way.

And being merely human, how could they? Throughout the eighties, Kraftwerk made a virtue of distancing themselves from their human alter egos and pushed the man machine concept to it's limits by sending electronic mannequins of themselves to play live at concerts. And even though Hutter and co went to extreme lengths to exorcise any element of the human condition from their music, what remained pulsed with a life of its own, much like HAL in 2001 A Space Odyssey. And though they sang about robots and computers Kraftwerk's music always throbbed with a human pulse of it's own that was clinical but never cold.

Words like 'innovators' is bandied around far too readily within the realms of popular music where any old rope is put on a pedestal for the easily pleased to worship at, but Kraftwerk are a band for whom it can genuinely be said they gave more to the future than they took from the past. 'The Model' still sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday and both it and the band unwittingly (and probably unwillingly) inspired a great many of the acts who will appear in these lists. 'The Model' is not their best track, not by a long way, but its success and wider recognition cannot be begrudged nor its influence denied.

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