While dropping this German band's name is nowadays synonymous with alt and indie rock cool, rest assured that there is real substance behind the legend...Neu never received the recognition it deserved during its all-too brief existence and the band's revered status was only cultivated by figures like David Bowie and Brian Eno after its mid-70's demise.

artist:
Neu

country of origin:
Germany

style(s):
Krautrock, psyrock, ambient rock, impressionist

decades active:
70's

essential releases:

  • Neu (1972, Gronland/Astralwerks)
  • Neu '75 (1975, Gronland/Astralwerks)

Reviewed by Mike G

While dropping this German band's name is nowadays synonymous with alt and indie rock cool, rest assured that there is real substance behind the legend. Neu was comprised of two very early Kraftwerk members Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger - musicians who occupy a particularly interesting place in Krautrock legend due to the fact that Neu never received the recognition it deserved during its all-too brief existence. The band's revered status was only cultivated by figures like David Bowie and Brian Eno after its mid-70's demise.

The striking debut album Neu (1972) was produced by legendary German producer Conny Plank - as were many of Krautrock's early classics - and it shows Rother and Dinger working in two styles. One is the down-to-midtempo 4/4 rock tracks where, instead of chord progressions, the band locks down into long, minimalist grooves based on a single chord. "Hallowgallo" and the dreamy "Weissensee" come off as a particularly hypnotic pieces of ambient rock, while the more abrasive "Negativland" prefigures explorations of guitar noise in later decades by bands like Sonic Youth and Radiohead. Then there's haunting, more drone-based experimental ambient music like "Im Gluck", a deeply beautiful piece featuring an early example of Indian-style drones meshed with guitar loops and feedback.

The non-essential and absurdly over-praised Neu 2 (1973) is for hardcore fans only. Having run out of money after recording a just few tracks - they had spent the rest on new equipment - the record company refused the band's request for further funds to finish the album. So Rother and Dinger proceeded to fill out the running time with the same tracks - often snippets of them - played at radically different tape speeds and with some added effects. This is an example of where the Neu of legend and Neu of reality diverge: the album is neither a mad stroke of genius nor the father of remix culture as some fans have deliriously claimed. It's simply an act of desperation born of frustration, and a sad indictment of a record company failing to recognise such promising talent.

However, the third and final album Neu '75 (1975) has diversity and depth aplenty, even though by this point the creative partnership was fracturing deeply. Produced again by Plank, the first half suggests a definition of Neu! as Rother would have it. It opens with a lovely proto-synthpop instrumental ("Isi") followed by two magnificently dreamy ambient rock pieces. "Seeland" crawls along at a slow clockwork pulse, with sad lead guitar phrases by Rother fed through a delay pedal and enveloped in a cavernous spacerock sound. On "Leb Wohl" the clockwork pulse recedes to a whisper, over which Rother plays weepingly beautiful piano accompanied by wordless vocal sighs. The album's second half has two ragged punk-ish rock tracks with vocals yelled by Dinger - fine if that's your bag - but also contains the epic "E-Musik" which mixes elements of psyrock jamming with the simple "motorik" beats that Neu became known for in rock circles. Treated live drums combined with an electronically sequenced beat create a steamtrain-like groove, while pretty, arcing guitar, synth lines and smatterings of piano provide the decoration.

After Neu '75 it was all over; the musical outlook of the two men was simply too divergent for them to work together any longer. Attempted reunions in the following decades never really worked and the relationship between the pair was often testy right up to Dinger's death in 2008. However both pursued successful solo careers and were especially prolific in the first decade following the breakup of Neu. Michael Rother also recorded two excellent albums as Harmonia in the mid-70's with Moebius and Roedelius of the group Cluster.

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