Music

Einstürzende Neubauten: Perpetuum Mobile

Katie Zerwas

Perpetuum Mobile follows on the heels of a long tradition of German industrial music from the early days of Kraftwerk all the way to the genre's more recent hard-core incarnation à la Rammstein.


Einstürzende Neubauten

Perpetuum Mobile

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2004-02-10
UK Release Date: Available as import
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The new album from Einstürzende Neubauten follows on the heels of a long tradition of German industrial music from the early days of Kraftwerk all the way to the genre's more recent hard-core incarnation à la Rammstein. Through a uniquely democratic process whereby fans were able to watch and contribute ideas to the musicians, the album appears to have been conceived as an attempt to synthesize the minimalism of contemporary art music along with modern techno and electronica sounds and styles. Not a bad idea -- in theory. The problem, it seems, is that the group is all talk, and no action. Musically, the songs drag on and on; recycling old clichés ad nauseum and ultimately going nowhere. The rest is literally chatter that is at times obnoxiously didactic and frequently nonesensical drivel.

It is difficult to say which is more tedious and painful to listen to, the lyrics or the orchestration. In general, the music is dull and unimaginative. The band recycles the same industrial sounds (clanging metal, roaring engines, etc.) and organic timbres (strings, wind, etc.) over and over. Even the rhythms and song structures are repeated such that there are basically two types of songs: slow, and slower; in other words, long and longer. Each song develops at a dirgelike pace, yet rarely is anything really achieved. Occasionally a song progresses to a climax, but more often than not this is a huge disappointment as with "Paradiesseits" in which the song finishes its exposition only to arrive at an irritating lounge organ melody that simply falls flat. Stale and derivative, the album reveals little that is melodically of interest.

One the other hand, the lyrics are truly the epitome of the album's failure. Just as the strings begin to weave together a delicate tapestry of post-modern timbres, in stumbles a towering German tenor, like an elephant in an antique store. Heavily laden with the sonorities of the German language and seemingly unable to carry a tune, the vocalist trammels over top the fragile strains of music in a manner that sounds more like a karaoke singer during happy hour than any serious attempt to evoke anything of substance. The problem is most apparent on the slower songs, such as "Ein Leichtes Leises Säuseln" since the combination of slowly barked German and sweetly orchestrated strings ends up sounding like a ballad in the musical Springtime for Hitler. Moreover, in case you thought you were missing the subtleties of the German language, the insertion of English phrases such as "life on other planets is difficult" and "there's a place around the corner where your dead friends live" will allow you to rest assured that you are indeed being annoyed by pretentious and pedantic lyrics.

Then again, perhaps I am being too harsh on a group that has played an important role in the industrial music scene since the early '80s. The idea of Perpetuum Mobile, or rather the perpetual motion machine, is a well-conceived and compelling one that is at times conveyed in their music. The title song "Perpetuum Mobile" assembles an wide array of modern timbres, and the cold mechanical imagery of the music and lyrics culls up the idea of life as a long journey that is precariously unified around a refrain that speaks of love and a vaguely understood sense of human solidarity. Plus, at 13 minutes and 40 seconds, it's hard to miss the suggestion of perpetual motion. The problem is that this idea and the song itself is entirely derivative. One would do better to listen to "Trans Europe Express" by Kraftwerk to experience an even more compelling expression of the same idea. Man and life itself viewed as a machine is a tired metaphor, and this album does nothing to save it from languishing in cliché.

Even if you love German industrial music, odds are you've heard better than this. Unless you're looking for something to help you with your German language acquisition (and, aren't we all, really?), there is no need to run out and get a copy of this album.

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