KRAFTWERK : 3-D : THE CATALOGUE
As an artistic entity, Kraftwerk have been redundant for the past 30 years : they've released only one new album of material since 1986, and have largely converted their studio perfectionism into becoming a glorious touring retrospective of a future that never happened. From an artistic perspective, Kraftwerk spent so long predicting the future that when the future finally arrived they are now historians. And this is nothing but history.
“The Catalogue” then is an updated, modern companion to 2009's studio reissue box set. This presents the current (2012-2016) Kraftwerk live experience in a complete work of art, recorded at a set of residencies at modern art museums as a concert art experience rather than anything as basic as live performance.
With a near complete lineup change, only Ralf Hutter remains from the bands classic lineup ; long time studio engineers Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz joined 25 years ago, alongside a nominal replacement for co-founder Florian in the shape of video specialist Falk Grieffenhagen. Though really, for all the personality demonstrated here, Kraftwerk could be four IT programmers called Norman.
Kraftwerk became the Ralf Hutter show sometime ago, and no matter how good they are, it is now impossible to imagine this set of German techno pensioners ever releasing any new material. This then, is a enormous final slice of recorded work and very probably their last release. And if I may be so cynical, a post-event rewriting of history by making all of their work modern yet ancient.
And whilst every song, from every one of their final 8 albums, is presented, the running orders and sequences are changed ; arrangements are reworked – sections are truncated and others extended, and two songs frequently become one, with “Franz Schubert” now no longer at the end of an album, but at the beginning and intertwined with “Europe Endless”. “The Telephone Call” is now an instrumental melded with b-side “House Phone”. What was, on the original studio release, a 7 minute percussive experiment – such as 'It's More Fun To Compute' – is now for example, a 2 minute coda to another song.
And whilst it is ostensibly a live album, it is... barely so. The audience are inaudible and there's little evidence these were recorded with thousands of people in attendance apart from the ambient hum of the venue on the vocals. Visually, the audience only exist as distant anonymous heads seen occasionally holding camera phones.
Also, given the bands ancient analogue equipment has long been obsolete and barely functional, the entire of their body of work has been recreated on modern and bespoke audio software. This is to all intents and purposes a complete replacement of their existing body of work with new, modern recordings on up to date equipment with a full set of visual imagery.
What do you get? After a baffling array of formats, you get either a 77 minute double vinyl (or a 77 minute DVD / Blu Ray package) : both of which feel slight and anorexic in their content.
You can also get a very affordable 8CD Box Set which runs to around 5 hours : each CD is designed to fit and present a modern and updated recording of the accompanying album . Whereas “Autobahn” on the original 1973 LP was 22 minutes, here it is 14. (The “Autobhan” album itself is in the form on this release, just 26 minutes long!).
The final format is a 4 Blu Ray set that features 2 nearly identical sets of video content (one which occasionally features shots of the bands onstage : the other does not – and that's the only difference I can tell), alongside a huge book, for an absurd amount of money. It's overblown for the cost, and would be far more palatable if it were cheaper or concentrated on the audio/visual content rather than repetition and packaging.
As a presentation, “3-D : The Catalogue” is a definitive, glorious final word from the band.
Nonetheless, whilst this is for the Kraftwerk completist, it is undoubtedly a luxury object that also is indulgent. Oh, and it sounds wonderful, and I recommend you listen to the sound of a future that never happened. It is the closest you can get to being there, and being there is an experience everyone should have at least once in their lives.