This is one of my favourite album covers of all time. Which might seem strange at first but there is something audacious about it, a punk take on pop art that revels in its simplicity and minimalism. It was the inspiration for the original site design of this very website (long since discarded – it wasn’t very good). The music contained on here feels just as iconoclastic at times. Although it starts off with almost stereotypical Neu! with “Für Immer” (Forver). I say stereotypical because when you think of Neu! you think of this beat, that driving motorik sound with Rother’s utopian guitar licks over the top. Its eleven minutes of bright sunny day high speed adventures and there’s no shame in that.
“Spitzenqualität” begins with a squeal of guitar and then in come the stomping drums, sounding like they were recorded in a vast, empty church. There’s a little phased guitar feedback and strange subliminal sounds coming in and out of perceptibility. It fades out by slowing down into absolute entropy, seguing straight into “Gedenkminute (für A + K)”. All we have here is the sound of desolate wind and subtle hums like a distorted church bell. Given the title translates as a minutes silence for A + K it might be a eulogy for some lost friends.
They contrast that by kicking in with “Lila Engel”, probably my favourite ever Neu! song. It gets me every damn time with its death stomp drums, fuzzed-out droning guitars and Dinger’s ecstatically deranged vocal which sounds like some sort of wordless nursery rhyme sung by a wino during a religious vision. One of my friends once said it sounded ‘satanic’ and I can understand why he might find it intimidating but it is one of those songs that as a DJ it is a joy to play because every time I hear it on a big, loud P.A. system it makes my heart race, especially when it ebbs away and then comes back harder and more distorted.
Side two is one of the most daring and cheeky things ever released. The band had run out of money to pay for studio time so they had to find a way to fill side two. Well, they had released a single called “Super” which hadn’t sold very well so took that song and it’s b-side, “Neuschee” and fucked around with them. The first track on side two, “Neuschee 78” is literally the song being played at 78rpm instead of 45! It’s very obviously a song at the wrong speed. It even skips a couple of times. Then you get “Super 16” which as you would imagine is the song “Super” played at 16rpm instead of 45. This one is much more effective, sounding so sinister that it ended up being used in classic martial arts film “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and plays every time the villain of the title appears. Once you have seen that film, you will think of him every time you hear “Super 16”. This is why Quentin Tarantino used it in “Kill Bill Vol.1” .
After that, the original and unmolested version of “Neuschnee” (German for ‘fresh snow’ ) seems positively normal. It’s the old Neu! beat with some deep bassy sounds building up in pace for four minutes. “Cassetto” (the German word for cassette) is the sound of what might be “Hallogallo” from their first album being played in a dodgy cassette player which is chewing it up. Anyone of a certain age will remember that horror so it is interesting to be able to experience the sound without the associated feelings of panic and horror as you ran to the machine to save your music from destruction. It is another molestation that works, the distortion being quite hypnotic.
“Super 78” is another speed up but as its for quite a wild song, it is more fun than the previous speed up and can be enjoyed although it is very silly. “Hallo Excentrico!” would appear to be “Hallogallo” being played too slow on two different record players at once and the spinning of the decks being occasionally interfered with. It seems to have then been transferred to cassette and the cassette played back and interfered with. Its more nonsense but not actually alienating, it is still enjoyable in a mad and rowdy way.
The finale is the normal version of “Super” which is a great song and deserved to have been more successful. Dinger growling away while madly thrashing the drums and Rother getting quite heavy. It seems almost silly to call it ‘normal’ but that is only in comparison to the previous experiments, it is far from ordinary and a great climax to a timeless album.