Ian Samson reviews Now! 81 with poorly concealed Krautrock-revival-agenda
The minimalism and authority evoked by the band name ‘Now!’ cast me back to the nucleus of my long-lost teenage years: a confused adolescent, sitting alone in a dark, cluttered room, encountering for the first time the wonders of Krautrock. ‘Faust’. ‘Kraftwerk’. ‘Neu!’. Such names soundtracked those bewildering years. Seeing the latest ‘Now!’ offering slouching, unloved, on a shelf at my local record store set my heart aflutter. ‘A Krautrock revival, at last!’ I dared to think. Could this be the record that galvanised the jaded post-Strokes indie scene, the album that re-introduced ’70s-style Germanic simplicity to a credit-crunch-and-Tulisa-sex-tape generation? I fervently slammed ‘81’ (pronounced, I assume, ‘Ein-und-Achtzig’) into my dusty old Walkman, awash with expectation and nostalgia, a single tear caressing my cheek.
Krautrock could seldom be accused of lacking ambition, and ’81’ was no different. With this 2-disc, 42-track, 2 hour-plus leviathan, ‘Now!’ appeared to be aspiring to concept album status. Unfortunately, the album was left deficient in direction; it was devoid of theme, or even the most basic musical continuity. There are, of course, stand-out tracks. These include yearning, despondent ode to the discotheque Mama do the Hump and Sexy and I Know It (translated from the German-language original, ‘Ich Bin Unglaublich Atraktiv und Ich Weiβ Es’). Unfortunately, these diverge so sharply from the tone set by songs such as the opening Somebody That I Used To Know or Good Feeling Featuring Etta James that they stand awkwardly, detracting from the oeuvre as a whole.
This stems from the commendable and spirited attempts of ‘Now!’ to break new ground. They do not retreat to the sheltered soil of post-psychedelic jamming and moody prog-rock that they would have doubtless tread in the scene’s 1970s heyday. Rather, the majority of the record is an ironic reinterpretation of Motown rhythm and blues; “Your p*ssy done changed!” they wail, in a voice so soulful it could make Aretha Franklin look albino on Dedication to My Ex.
Yet, I cannot help but lament that it’s not just anatomical structures that done changed – Krautrock done changed also. When the bold colours of the album cover initially made sweet, German love to my retina in the aisles of that record store, I allowed myself to dream. I dreamed that my favourite genre had returned, immaculately preserved. I wanted to believe that it would be the same as it was when I was a pretentious, Clearasil-requiring teen. But like a couple that continues to date after they brutally murder their postman and bury his remains in the garden next to their child’s first pet rabbit, I knew deep inside that it could never be the same again.
Yet, perhaps that is for the best. Perhaps I need to sell that house, move to another country, find a new girlfriend, and never speak of Postman-gate again. Perhaps, just perhaps, I need to stop blindly hoping that every single album I buy will be the one that finally heralds the reincarnation of Krautrock. This world is a cruel place.
Image 1 – Gumtree, image by steve.