Those of us lucky enough to grab tickets for the Tate Modern marathon are still presumably in a state of painful Kraftwithdrawal (and, if you’re reading this, I hate you. I hate you.), so it’s fortuitous that the new album from former Kraftwerker Karl Bartos is almost here and that we’re allowed to share some of it with you!
Atomium is the most Kraftwerky song on an album that sounds quite a lot like Kraftwerk. A slightly sentimental Kraftwerk in places, though – one that aren’t above singing about stuff that isn’t electricity pylons or Minitel, but actual fleshy humanoids.
But before you start getting grossed out, check out Atomium – strong as girders, as pure as mathematics, and a Valentine’s ode to an unphotographable piece of Belgian architecture constructed for Expo ’58.
There must be clever parallels that could be drawn between Atomium – an iconic piece of engineering whose structure is an architectural magnification of a single cell of iron crystal – and the parent outfit that spawned Bartos as a musician. A bizarre copyright law prevents any publication or website from publishing pictures of Atomium – even today it is regularly Photoshopped out of Brussells landscape shots.
The tracks on this album, Off The Record, are completed versions of song-sketches Karl originally mapped out on the sly during his tenure in the 20th Century’s greatest pop group (from Radio-Activity to uncredited work on The Mix) – which explains why the chiselled, handsome polygons of Bartos’ Kraftwerk mannequin appear on the cover, projected live from the Uncanny Valley.
On the album track Without A Trace of Emotion, Karl sings – sans-vocoder – of what seems unambiguously his days in Kraftwerk: “I’m on my way. Got the world at my feet. I wish I could remix my life to another beat. Without a trace of emotion. My image turns around. Calling from a distance without a sound.”
And then a second character responds, in that familiar authoritarian robot voice: “Every single day I am here to let you know. Whatever happens to you, I won’t let go, I won’t let go.”
“I’m so glad to hear! That you ‘care’ about your family,” deadpans Karl, in this strange duet with biography. “Without a trace of emotion. I see you right in front of me. Dress code: red shirt, black tie. You’re history. You’re history.”
It sounds bitter, but also kind of sad. Squishy feelings for fallible humans.
You can pre-order Off The Record from Bureau B.