The Man-Machine



June 3rd, 2005 | 128 replies

Release Date: 1978 | Tracklist

Kraftwerk: undoubtedly the most influential electronica based band in history, as well as one of the most influential, period. The Man-Machine, released in 1978 was their fourth album since they sprung to international attention on the release of Autobahn, and while it's not the one most readily associated with the band, there's a strong argument for saying that it's the one which actually best summarises the band for any new listener to Kraftwerk. As the title suggests, this album successfully blends the boundaries between human and robot to the point where it's unclear quite exactly what Kraftwerk are. Such is the electronic perfection lying deep in their music, along with the legend surrounding them, with the band being notoriously reclusive, to the point that their own record label has been reported as not having a contact number for the band, that it's difficult to know where truth begins and rumour ends with these guys.

Of course, a trademark of Kraftwerk's music is pretty much always a visceral coldness, aided by their trademark use of vocorders, icy synths, and stuttering electronics, creating something of a musical detachment from anyone listening to the music itself. Here, on lead off single The Robots, this is possibly more evident than at any other time during the band's career, with the repeated dehumanised refrain of "we are the robots" being pretty much self-explanatory, as well as being the most blatant example in the band's career of their perpetuation of their own legend. This same atmosphere is created on 2 more of the 6 tracks present here, for example on title track The Man-Machine, which owes a surprising amount to what can only really be described as a form of funk, with a synthesied line providing basically all the backing to the song. Ascending arpeggiated vocals repeating the word "machine" seems to imply us spiralling out of control, heading towards the inevitability of artificial intelligence (or something similar), and yet it's done in such a way that makes it seem somehow inevitable as well as not really that important. There's definitely no sense of urgency or concern in the music, and again, this can be attributed to the fact that when you think about it, Kraftwerk are a bit like the musical equivalent to Darth Vader; "more machine than man".

Spacelab, an instrumental track, is based around a similar idea, with a profoundly depressing melody bubbling away for basically the entire duration of the song. It's the kind of thing that really should get repetitive, but such are the subtle variations in tone and mood that the band not only get away with it, but make it sound really quite outstanding. This brings us nicely onto an oddity of the album, in The Model, which may well be the most atypical song in the whole of Kraftwerk's available back catalogue. A portrait of a model, it's a mere 3 and a half minutes long, with what is genuinely a verse/chorus structure. It's hardly likely to have been played hugely on MTV (if it had existed at the time), but this is a song that really doesn't sound like Kraftwerk, although the dehumanised vocals about what is a very human topic show that they're hardly really changing their style, even for this one song. The other two songs, Metropolis and Neon Lights are the weakest on the album, and what brings it down below the standard of their very best work, such as Autobahn, which shot them to fame. With the theme of urbanisation, dealing with the issue of cities, and the often deceptive nature of them (such as with neon lights), it's a rather bleak world view, that's obviously backed up by the nature of the music itself.

Where in the pantheon of Kraftwerk albums does this stand? It's definitely not on the very top tier, as it's not had quite the groundbreaking effect that their other work did. However, for anyone with even a passing interest in electronica, the entire avaiable back catalogue of this band is simply something which needs to be looked into, and this album is firmly among those which come just behind their best. They're not a band which it's easy to describe, as they combine cold, detached music with themes which all of us can relate to, and they do this in a way which is somehow very likeable and catchy. And in a way, that's their charm. You don't really understand the music, or know why it's quite so good, but you just know that it is. And here, where they finally threaten to turn into robots (they actually play The Robots live with actual mannequins replacing them on stage), that's very clear indeed.

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user ratings (725)

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 3rd 2005


Feedback's needed. I've decided to radically cut the length of my reviews, as they've been getting implausibly long. While that's kind of inevitable for some of the albums I've been doing, they still are.

June 3rd 2005


I like it, nice one Med :thumb:

The shorter format has not hurt the quality of your work

June 3rd 2005


Album Rating: 4.5

Good review. Certainly not too short. This is a great album, I still need to get into it though. I'm looking forward to seeing them live.

June 3rd 2005


I'm trying to be more moderate with the ratings (I'll be redoing a lot of mine), and I don't think this deserves a 5. Somewhere between a 4 and a 4.5, possibly leaning towards a 4.5, maybe.

June 3rd 2005


This is somewhat of a Top15 party here...

Robert Crumb
June 4th 2005


Great review.



Yeah, I wanted to keep the run going. It is a great review, though. My second favorite Kraftwerk album.
This Message Edited On 06.04.05

June 4th 2005


Good work. I've heard three Kraftwerk albums and this was the one I liked least. I found it the least interesting and was much less catchy. That said, it is still great.


November 21st 2005


this'll sound weird coming from a pop-punk boy

but i like this, i listen to it now and then and i'm amazed

that's the truth

August 31st 2006


Album Rating: 1.0

At school, my art teacher made us listen to this CRAP, its just annoying and makes you tired. Godamn I hate this.

Two-Headed Boy
August 31st 2006




Fortissimo review.

September 27th 2006


frapacino, i dislike this band as well, but, dont be such a dick about it. i too can be a dick about hating a band but i try not to.

March 28th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

This album is utterly fantastic in certain places ("The Robots" the title track and "Neon Lights" jump to mind) Unfortunately "Metropolis" and "Spacelab" drag on just a little too long.

Highly recommended to any fans of electronica.

October 16th 2007


This album is amazing and the review is amazing as well.

I listen to this constantly on vinyl.

June 7th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

All Hail Man-Machine!!!!!

May 4th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

Much as I like this review, Metropolis, Neon Lights and Weakest in the same sentence is a travesty. Neon Lights is incredibly beautiful This Message Edited On 05.04.09

October 13th 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

I really want to review this, but yours pretty much sums up the album and its greatness.

January 4th 2010


A hell of an album. I slept on Kraftwerk for quite some time and then my boy insisted on me listening to this and Ive forever been put in my place over it.

January 4th 2010


Yeah this is great. I love how it's electronic and stuff.

August 9th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

it's hard, nay, impossible to listen to this album while doing ANYTHING and not feel like you're 20 years in the future, and the great thing about that is, it'll always be 20 years ahead of any year. in 2030 this will sound like it's in 2050.

i know this sounds ridiculous but sometimes i do stuff listening to this album it feels like i'm doing something brand new and exciting.

currently playing fifa and listening to it. football has become a space age game of the future.

getting my bus to work. i am now boarding a hover bus to the moon.

having a bath/shower. i am decontaminating myself from a dangerous mission to an irradiated planet.

as absolutely fucked and ridiculous as that all sounds, it's all true. this album just captures the beauty and wonder of the future, while at times having a pretty nasty and fearful edge to it. i love it.

November 15th 2010


I don't understand why the reviewer says it has to be 'groundbreaking' to be 'top tier' . I don't care how groundbreaking (a subject very much up for debate no doubt) it is. I don't listen to music as a history lesson but as music. And to the person who says this isn't catchy you need to get your hearing checked.

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