We are the robots....
Released May 1978
Released at the height of punk, before most post-punk had appeared and before new romanticism, this album, like its predecessor, Trans-Europe Express, from 1977, blazed a trail for those genres. Funnily enough, though, this detached, cool German electronic music fitted in quite well with the punk thing. Most soon-to-be post punkers loved this. It was hugely influential on groups like Ultravox, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Gary Numan, The Human League, early Simple Minds and New Order, amongst many others. They made pop songs out of extended electronic music like this. It was no surprise, therefore, that the album was successful in the UK in 1982, not in 1978.
Personally, although I enjoy a track or two of it every now and again, a whole album is probably too much. It certainly was in 1978.
1. The Robots
4. The Model
5. Neon Lights
6. The Man Machine
The Robots starts the album in unsurprisingly, staccato, robotic, jerky fashion, the sound being all electronic keyboards and synth drums before the futuristic, electronically-distorted "we are the robots" vocal comes in, Dalek-style. Spacelab has that Trans-Europe Express chugging train feel about it.
Metropolis gives us lyrics again, at least a Teutonic, doleful chanting of the song's title as the synthesisers rapidly take us through the Düsseldorf night. Of course, David Bowie and Brian Eno will have loved this.
The Model was the group's surprising bit chart hit. Maybe not so surprising, as it has a totally infectious beat, quirky vocal and trendy, fashion-influenced lyrics. The synth riff opening is instantly recognisable and is often used as a soundtrack to items about fashion or new technology and so on. The German accented vocals were highly appealing too.
Neon Lights continues the slightly more poppy feel with vocals once more (at least at the beginning, it's a nine minute track) and a synth riff the like of which would be repeated a lot in the early eighties. The Man Machine had some of the sort of sounds David Bowie used in the "Heroes" and Low instrumentals. Its vocals are shrouded by sound effects over a stabbing slow keyboard loop.
As I said, a bit of this in small doses and I enjoy it. It is certainly clever and atmospheric. I couldn't listen to nothing but this, though. The sound quality is excellent by the way.