They think they have a sense of humour: the cover of the new Robocop Kraus album, They Think They Are The Robocop Kraus, is a take-off of the Talking Heads album from 1978, More Songs About Buildings and Food. What’s this mean? It means these proud, German post-punk-funkers know their influences and won’t pretend otherwise. Think David Byrne, XTC, Gang of Four. Sound familiar?
The Kraus has been kicking around, mainly in Germany, for the past eight years; They Think They Are… is the band’s fourth album, but the first to be released in the US. It’s a little unfortunate that we only get to hear the band now, post-the whole ‘80s dance rock backlash, because the touchstones are so familiar from scores of reviews for scores of different bands that the complaint (we’ve heard this before) is almost a joke. The situation reminds me a bit of that Australian band, Faker—though likely dismissed by many as Franz Ferdinand knockoffs, they were doing Franz a long time before Franz was even Franz.
Still, what’s interesting about Robocop Kraus’ new disc are a Teutonic sense of the ridiculous, and a healthy dose of good old funk. If you’ve never heard The Robocop Kraus, “You Don’t Have to Shout” gives a good primer. It’s got a taut, funky bassline; a baritone full of thrown-off boasts; and a subject perhaps never before tackled in a song—Matthias Rust’s 1987 solo Cessna flight into Soviet airspace, right into Red Square.
They Think They Are… kicks things off with a peppy ‘80s synth hook and hardly looks back. The record is full of shouted, semi-melodic choruses with jumbled meaning, like “Thrown into an existence machine and spit out” on “After Laughter Comes Tears”, or “I have a question to every answer” on “A Man’s Not A Bird”. Throughout, producer Pelle Gunnerfeldt [The Hives, The (International) Noise Conspiracy] forgoes the punk leanings of his previous work to concentrate more on a certain attitude. Thomas Lang’s vocals illustrate it best, perhaps, with their snotty, I’m-better-than-you-ness.
The “sound”, unfortunately, wears a bit thin mid-disc in the absence of much that’s innovative and exciting. Perhaps because they often eschew traditional song structures, many of the songs seem a little aimless. “I Picture You”, for example, just meanders off into mediocrity. Worse, “In Fact You’re Just Fiction” sounds amateur; when Thomas Lang repeats the nothing-line “watching the television you must have fallen asleep” Kraus seem a band reaching desperately for a melody. Yet the melody eludes them, and this song would have been better left off the album.
But if it’s funky dance-rock you’re after (still), there’s plenty to keep the body moving. Aforementioned “A Man’s Not A Bird” has a sweet, catchy hook that’s impossible to dislike. “Life Amazes Us Despite Our Miserable Future”, with a title worthy of Morrisey, tones down the exuberance to great effect: as a cymbal crashes in ‘80s space in the background, Lang’s repetition of the chorus works its way into your brain. “There Are Better Lights In Hollywood” exemplifies the Kraus’ MOA: dance-punk drums, meandering synth melody, and shouted, subtly resonant vocals.
Maybe the most charming thing about The Robocop Kraus is that they just don’t seem to care what you think of them. They’re having fun. If you don’t think too much about the music, you might too.