Back in 2004 everyone’s favourite krautrock electro-precision pioneers Kraftwerk went on a visually spectacular world tour which sent those who saw it into paroxysms of joyously effusive praise. 2005 sees the release of _'Minimum-Maximum', effectively a live Greatest Hits album with the tracks recorded at a variety of different dates on their world tour and then mixed in the studio. The band are touring to promote the live album, leading DiS to speculate whether they’ll release an album from this tour, too, and then tour that album, and then record that tour, and then tour to promote that recording… and so on and so forth until the cycle reaches terminal velocity and brings about the end of the world.
Well, loath though I’d normally be to encourage anyone to engage in activities likely to bring about the premature demise of the human race, in this case I’d have to make an exception. Because the live album really is severely good.
As you’d expect from a band as clockwork tight and renowned for perfectionism as Kraftwerk, the quality of sound and precision of delivery is so spot-on as to be worthy of a studio recording. However, 'Minimum-Maximum' does have the taste of a live recording, and not just in the compulsory howls of audience approval before songs (or, more usually, at the point at which the bizarre vocoded intros give way and the audience realise which song they’re about to hear). It’s in the feel of the sound: Kraftwerk, normally so clipped and distant, here feel more expansive, bringing to mind the strange feel dance music often has of being on the one hand cold, alien and untouchable and yet at the same time able to engulf you and get right under your skin. Their live sound makes the hairs stand on end in a different, more primal way than that of their records, making for the spinal cord rather than the frontal lobes and managing to do so without losing an ounce of the band’s cleanliness and rigidity of sound. It could just as easily introduce someone new to the band’s music as it could sit in an established fan’s obsessively comprehensive collection.
So 'Minimum-Maximum' manages to be both an exciting glimpse of the live experience and a clipped, processed and fundamentally Kraftwerk record, in a manner that the band doubtless calculated and put into play with a robotic and surgical precision. Well, I sincerely hope that’s how it happened. After all, this is Kraftwerk we’re talking about: I’d expect nothing less.