Review Summary: First concept album about travel, oceans, wind, water and air compressors.Brief History
Einsturzende Neubauten are a German avant garde band hailing from Berlin. Their album Perpetuum Mobile was released one year shy of the 25th year in existance. They have been famous for their use of custom built instruments and none traditional instruments.
Blixa Bargeld - Lead Vocals, screaming, various instruments
Alexander Hacke - Bass, backing vocals, various instruments
Jochen Arbeit - lead guitar, backing vocals, various instruments
Rudi Moser - custom made percussion, backing vocals, various instruments
N.U Unhruh - Percussion, backing vocals, various instruments.
Background on Perpetuum Mobile
The band decided to release an album themselves that would be funded solely by their fans. For a once off payment of €35 fans would receive a Supporters version of the album that would not be able for the public to buy, but prehaps most importantly at set times the band would turn on web cams in the studio and allow fans to watch the recording and rehearsing of the songs (The band never use demos but rather create songs from experiments and improvisations in the studio). Fans were encouraged to provide feedback on songs make suggestions and could listen to rough mixes of songs and choose which were their favourite. Obviously the band had final say on the album but their say was influencial none the less particularly in one of the album's highlights Ein seltener Vogel, a song the band almost scrapped but continued only because of support from the fans.
The album itself
Perpetuum Mobile could almost be called a concept album in the sense of common themes that appear through the songs, lyrics and song titles refer to the ocean, wind, movement and travel in general. The theme of wind is reflected in the choice of instruments used, in particular the air compressor which appears on the back of the album and air cake turn tale which also appear on the front cover of the album.
The album opens with Ich gehe jetzt (I'm going now), musically its based around bass guitar and the low droning of the air compressor. Guitar and percussion is low in the mix with Bargeld's warm baritone to the fore. It's a sparse arrangement where tempo changes are subtle, instruments becoming slightly louder in the mix. In fact on first few listens the only noticable changes are the hand claps that punucate the end of chorus.
In many ways it's merely the set up for the sprawling beast of a title track, Perpetuum Mobile. It is a brave step to place a 14 minute song at the start of the album. As the song progresses it gets faster only to seemingly collapse and rebuild itself slightly different each time. It is however around the 11 minute mark that the song climaxs with as something that can only be described a shopping trolley dropped down five flights of stairs comes to the fore and chaos is briefly unleashed before being reigned back in. This approach may frustrate fans of some of their harsher songs, but early songs such as Armenia were about the build up as much as the release.
We are allowed a breather with Ein leichtes leises Säuseln, the quietest song and most beautiful band have ever committed to tape and maybe the only song to use dry leaves and a blanket as percussion.
Selbstportrait mit Kater translates as Self-portrait with hangover, and pretty much describes the song. We are greeted with a low buzzing like an alarm and the band singing "Good Morning" is German before being slapped over a bag of hammers. Musically it's a distance and slightly less disturbed cousin of Trinklied (Drinking Song) from Halber Mensch. It ends with Bargeld gleefully singing about committing incest with the stars before singing "life on other planets is difficult".
Boreas and Ozean und Brandung book mark album highlight Ein seltener Vogel. Ozean und Brandung feels as least twice as long at its 3 minute half minute length than it should be. Ein seltener Vogel may well be one the band's greatest songs, at least of the past 10 years and as mentioned earlier one they came close to abandoning. We hear nothing except the low humming of the band for two minutes then the metal percussion is introduced. Like many of the songs of the album it has a looping hypnotic quality without being repeative. Seven minutes in Bargled unleashes his trademark scream and it's in melody with the song. It's impossible to describe the sheer brillance of this song. Any other band would have placed this as their epic finish to the album, but here the band use the song close the first part of the album.
Paradiesseits is similar to Ich gehe jetzt, built mainly around droning air compressor and features a Beatlesque brass section. It doesn't really feel like a Neubauten song and personally it's one of my least favourite songs they have ever recorded. In the context of quality songs on the album it feels quite poor.
It is a brave move on the part of Neubauten to place the more challenging sounds upfront and the more easily accessible songs at the end. Youme & Meyou is the first song on the album in English, and only one of a hand full sung in English. Der Weg Ins Freie follows again shows how much the band can do using a simple melody and looping it and changing it slightly each time.
Dead Friends (Around The Corner) is next and has since become a standard in their setlists. This is the first time that Arbeit's guitar is prominent in a song, it's a few simple chords adding texture but is a key part of the song. As with many of the songs on the album it builds and then dips often to sparse percussion or just guitar. In fact listening really closely to the album you become how aware just how sparse the arrangements are and yet there doesn't feel like there is anything missing. Grundstück or "floor piece" in english starts as solely a percussion piece before bass and strings are added. Its a haunting track Bargeld's voice to the fore. It ends abruptly but perfectly if you have the album on repeat. Neubauten have created an album that once heard should continue to loop on your cd or mp3 player for hours on end.