[16 November 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Rammstein certainly deserve credit for stubbornly refusing to slip into one-hit wonder obscurity in the wake of the improbable worldwide success of 1997’s Sehnsucht, one of those lightning-in-a-bottle scenarios that comes along once in a band’s lifetime. However, despite the tremendous ambition the Berlin, Germany band showed on Mutter (2001), Reise, Reise (2004), and Rosenrot (2006), three very good albums, one could argue that in their concerted effort to avoid sounding irrelevant, Rammstein had slightly lost track of what made their tribal Teutonic tunes so appealing in the first place. They might sing and chant in German, but there’s nothing as universal as a simple, monster guitar riff and pulsating stadium rock style beats. As much as we admired such inspired musical moments as “Amour” and “Stirb nicht vor mir (Don’t Die Before I Do)”, and as bracing as harder tracks like “Benzin”, “Mein Teil”, and “Links 2 3 4” were, part of us couldn’t help but wish that the incendiary quality that propelled that early material would return in full.
A dozen years after that huge commercial breakthrough, we’ve finally gotten that follow-up that matches Sehnsucht step for step. Accentuated by lavish, glossy panels of Eugenio Recuenco photography that resembles a cross between Baroque painting and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Liebe Ist Für Alle Da (literally translated as “there is love for everyone”) contains everything we want from a Rammstein album: slick layers of guitars and synths brazenly nicked from Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, hook-laden melodies delivered by the commanding, baritone-voiced Till Lindemann, loads of angst and savage satire, and machine gun-like beats that tear our collective heads off.
The band makes its intentions crystal clear at the album’s outset on “Rammlied”, its slow, menacing march and “Ramm…Stein” chant a direct reference to the song “Rammstein” which graced the 1995 debut Herzeleid, Lindemann boasting bluntly, “Wir sind zurück.” “We are back,” indeed. Christoph Schneider’s drums are front and center on the entire record, benefiting immensely from Jacob Hellner’s punchy production, and “Ich tu dir weh” (“I Hurt You”) is a terrific example, his mechanical beats punctuating Lindemann’s explicit tale of dominance and submission, the snare tone as sharp as the imagery. “Waidmanns Heil” is classic Rammstein, the band toying with the pensive/raging dynamic brilliantly, building up to Lindemann’s explosive exhortation, “Sterben! [‘Die!’]” The murky “B********” seethes with rage, “Wiener Blut”‘s depictions of imprisonment eerily resemble the horrific real life ordeal of Austrian Elisabeth Fritzl, while the insanely catchy title track is a good example of the increased interplay between the guitar assault of Richard Krupse and Paul Landers and Christian Lorenz’s textured keyboards.
One thing Rammstein do better now than a decade ago is expanding their musical palette without betraying the core sound of the band, and while there’s no shortage of curveballs thrown on Liebe Ist Für Alle Da , the album remains a very cohesive listen. The glam rock-swinging “Haifisch” is constructed around a snappy cabaret-inspired synth arrangement by Lorenz, while “Roter Sand” is as effective a mood piece as the band has ever written. Meanwhile, “Frühling in Paris” is a real shocker. Nestled in the middle of the album, it’s quite the anomaly, a delicate little beauty surrounded by pure ugliness, Lindemann’s vocal delivery understated, even vulnerable, his lyrics quoting Edith Piaf, an e-bowed guitar solo reminiscent of Pulp’s later work underscoring the lovelorn melodrama beautifully.
In direct contrast is “Pussy”, the highly contentious first single. Released a month before the album and accompanied by an extremely not-suitable-for-work video, the track immediately felt like a misfire of colossal proportions. The blunt, unfunny video, directed by the similarly blunt, unfunny Jonas Åkerlund was far too literal an interpretation of the song’s send-up of German sexual mores, but removed from Åkerlund’s visuals, “Pussy” actually holds up a lot better, Lindemann’s delivery highly tongue-in-cheek, Lorenz’s synth pop arrangement playfully winking at the audience. It’s a brief, mood-lightening detour by Rammstein on an otherwise bracing return to form, an album that gets a devilish kick out of juxtaposing the grotesque with the ornate, never for a second reluctant to offend anyone and everyone in the process.