If the success of a compilation series like The In-Kraut is based on kitsch appeal alone, then so be it — we need to hear the familiar corrupted by camp from time to time, perhaps to validate that which is truly authentic, or perhaps to serve as a reminder that we need not take our beloved tropes so seriously for a spell.
The third, and reportedly final, volume of the In-Kraut series — subtitled Hip Shaking Grooves Made in Germany — offers more of the kitschy same: slabs of pseudo-funk and kinda-psych rock, often punctuated by manic blasts of almost-jazz, much of it culled from out-of-print singles, albums, and German library label catalogs. Not all of these songs were made by Germans (there’s a surprising amount of English lyrics throughout all volumes, and Vol. 3 includes artists from South Africa and Switzerland), but they were cut under the auspices of Germany’s studio system, which in the late ’60s and early ’70s was marked by an enthusiastic if awkward reverence for American R&B and Swinging London chic. They are at once an homage to the cultural touchstone of another, and an attempt to put their own culture within the very steps of that foreign groove. Oh, yeah: And they’re awesome.
The music on The In-Kraut, Vol. 3 falls into three categories. First, there are the covers of famous American and British pop and rock songs. These are often the most ridiculous; nothing ever gives an original a run for its money, although the left-field craziness of a pep-band reconstruction of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” is tremendous fun nonetheless. Dieter Zimmermann arranges that one, and maybe “pep-band reconstruction” isn’t entirely accurate — there is, after all, a fuzz-toned guitar laying down the original’s big bad riff. In her rendition of Sonny Bono’s “The Beat Goes On”, Inga sounds downright jaded, detached, and…well, German. The “la-dee-da-dee-dee” refrain becomes more a surrender than exclamation in Inga’s hands, and surely that’s something. In similar fashion, Katja Ebstein turns the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” into druggy, day-end defeat — a lullaby sung from the point-of-view of a woman awaiting her man. True, the last thing you need is another Beatles cover, but I haven’t even mentioned Certain Lions & Tigers’ reading of the dead horse “Fever” — on flute, no less.
There’s stuff here that pines for unadulterated groove, and even when it doesn’t hit the mark, it has the potential to make a goofy-rad racket. Ambros Seelos’a “Hangman’s Rope” is stiff-horn funk, Heinz Kiessling goes orchestrally bombastic with “Drift”, and Ingfried Hoffmann delivers what essentially amounts to two blasts of generic organ-based funk (one of them under Memphis Black’s name). The possible score of this subgroup is Acid, a keys-bass-drums trio from Austria with a penchant for instrumental hyper-blues workouts, as evidenced by “Hipguard”. Of course, this being 1972, the track gets repeatedly sullied by a flange effect, which takes its proto-Medeski, Martin & Wood vibe and awesomely dates it.
The third category of track on The In-Kraut, Vol. 3 is that which seems to have come from some alternate universe where clinical methodology and crazy-ass toasting hunches are equally respected. This is where The In-Kraut really makes its mark. I’m thinking of the candy-colored explosion of schmaltz and tone-deaf rebellion on Georgees’ “Butterflies Never Cry”, or Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra’s “The World Is Gone”, apocalypse rock at its most absurd and genteel. (There’s nothing quite like a crazy dude going bananas about the end of the world over some stock faux-funk rhythm.) And then there’s Karl Schiller’s “High”, which cuts and pastes speeches by German politicians over an innocuous bed of soft-focus flute jazz. There’s no better way to sum up The In-Kraut‘s appeal than with a track like this, something that blends irreverence, disposability, and brilliant irony into an oddity that you’d rather not switch off just yet, even if your more refined sensibilities tell you otherwise.