Alles Wieder Offen
For many people like me, looking for their own weird way out, German industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten were a godsend. Hardcore was too adrenaline-infused for me - it felt like these kids were just a gusher of platitudes. Now, as a gentrified variant of my former self, I get it now - in youth we are in a constant state of being completely spent, but then it just wore me out. Plus I wanted weird. I wanted sonic poetry ever since I dropped needle on a Harry Partch album from the library - those bizarre hobo stories over weird ancient Greek scales on instruments made out of retuned organs and glass bowls.
Somewhere along the way, I bought a compilation If You Can't Please Yourself, You Can't Please Your Soul that had washed up in the Record bar at the Mall, largely because of the inclusion of he salaciously named band Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel. The seeds of Coil, The The, Psychic TV, Marc Almond were all planted I the eager soil of my brain by that record, but the track that really set me on my heels was "Wardrobe" by the unpronounceable Einstürzende Neubauten. Banging away on bedsprings and growling in German, Neubauten sounded like the apocalyptic de-evolution of man trapped on tape by some future gas-masked Alan Lomax. Perfect sound for the fractured mind of youth, all those sparks and hammers and base human grunts tumbling out of the speakers like parts discarded by some alien rummaging through a wrecked car, looking for meat.
I learned early on their name meant "Collapsing new buildings." I learned how to pronounce the name. I scrawled their little adopted fertility symbol on every notebook I owned. I knew somebody who had actually been to a show where they drilled a hole in the stage floor with a jackhammer. Back before the internet, their records were hard to come by and often were a bonding agent among fans. I was shocked to see their 1984 collection Strategien Geoen Architekturen ("Strategies Against Architecture" - a real Neubaten fan uses the German titles) on the rack next to The Eagles at the library the other day, and have been peppering my week with the sounds of drills and cement machines and air compressors wielded in the name of Art.
Today, it still sounds fiery, but it exposes the flaws of youthful exuberance. Those drills and hammers are all a little, well, obvious. I suppose if one is collapsing new buildings, one needs a blunt instrument. Over the years, Neubauten began to change shape, becoming more "musical" by incremental steps. Lead provocateur had a lucrative sided job as guitarist in Nick Cave's band, and one saw the two bands approaching convergence over the years. Bargeld spun off from the Bad Seeds in 2003 and retooled the band as a new business model for expression, creating music on a subscription basis through their neubaten.org web portal, allowing members special CD's and a webcam glimpse into the creative process.
As the band enacted their strategies against architecture, however, the sharp edges of their music were smoothed out, and Neubauten became more a vehicle for song than sound. Plenty will argue that Neubauten was always about the songs, they just changed what constitutes instruments, but most of the people that dug them that I knew liked the sounds. At the end of the twentieth century they were turning out records like Ende Nue and Silence is Sexy which traded pyrotechnics for ambience, sound collages for remarkable adept song craft. Before they were attacking the civilized world with wrecking balls, now they appeared to be crafting new places to live in the rubble.
Now, eight years into the new millennium, the band releases their smoothest album yet. Alles Weider Offen (All Open Again). The end product of their user-support program, this record is downright accessible compared to the aural assaults of their earlier work. You could play "Nagorny Karabach" as romantic background music as you entertain a lady in these new edifices carved out of modern society's collapse. Much of this record reflects this sensuous side. The title track erupts over a muted keyboard and guitar pulse with metallic sounds and new wave snippets in the background. "Susej" is a mutant slow jam lope with positively cinematic climaxes throughout. "Iche Warte" is a meditative price for what sounds like harp and lute. This is a far cry form pieces using Geiger counters and amplified carburetors.
Strains of the old Neubauten still bleed though. "Weil Weil Weil" is a dizzying old fashioned Industrial death march chant, and "Let's Do It A Dada" is a clang-o-rama rave-up like those from their crossover record Haus der Luge from 1989. The most satisfying track from long running fans will likely be the epic "Unvollständigkeit" which spend the first half of its nine minutes slowly building up pressure, the way Bargeld did on the great Nick Cave tracks, until things come to a head - like you hear actual steam escaping and sirens and howls, only to quickly resolves back to the somnambulant pulse that bore it. This kind of dynamic range is majestic; it's the thing that set Neubauten apart from its imitators. Neubauten takes the detritus of culture and life and reconfigures those parts into machines for divine expression.
Their songs are like Jean Tinguely's 1960 "Homage a New York", a mechanical sculpture designed to destroy itself in situ among the Henry Moore's and Noguchi's in MoMA's garden. When Neubauten really does their thing, the reaction is like what I expect was that of Tinguely's onlookers, applauding his irreverence and then becoming terrified of the destructive power of his follow through. Neubauten may no longer be the pack of wild speed freaks wielding welding torches and a four-track, rendering beauty out of sheet metal and will to power, but they still can pack a wallop when you let them in.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com