If you know one thing about Wolfgang Flür, it’s that he was in Kraftwerk. Flür was a member of the pioneering German synth outfit during their most productive and influential period, from the 1974 smash Autobahn to at least The Man-Machine in 1978. Flür seems to have been written out of the credits on the band’s two 1980s albums, and he has not released much music since.
Eloquence is subtitled “Complete Works”, which may seem misleading considering the album contains only 12 unique songs. But there’s no underhanded marketing scheme at work. Rather, this really is the sum of the recordings Flür made between 2000 and 2015, after his time in Kraftwerk and the subsequent, short-lived Yamo. Working with production partner Stefan Lindlahr and a handful of other collaborators, Flür created these tracks mostly for his own gratification and to use in his DJ sets, with only a few having seen the light of day before.
Despite Flür’s pedigree, it bears mentioning that as electronic percussionist, he did not get a single songwriting credit with Kraftwerk. Some of the tracks here do bear traces of his former band’s iconic sound, but for the most part Flür comes across as a mere participant in the music on Eloquence. He is a co-writer on every song, but aside from his vocals, it’s tough to know exactly how and where he figures in.
Perhaps not surprisingly given its genesis, Eloquence comes across as more of a loosely related but disjointed collection of songs than a proper album. Where Flür and Lindlahr are the primary producers, the music covers a fairly wide range of synth-based sounds and styles. The common denominator is an overarching sense of whimsy and offhandedness. Kraftwerk were always a bit silly and tongue-in-cheek, but their sincere, deadpan vocals and the meticulous focus and drive of their music saved them from coming across as a novelty act. The same can’t always be said of Eloquence. These songs are certainly looser, more eclectic, and often more earthy than any of Kraftwerk’s trademark material. They are also more frivolous and all-too-easy to dismiss.
Tracks like “Blue Spark”, “Beat Perfecto”, and “I Was a Robot”, an early-2000s dance hit in Germany, evince the simple electro-zap percussion and pointed discipline Kraftwerk were famous for. The latter is an especially clever reference to Flür’s former band, who at their concerts would indeed send robots out in lieu of the human members.
These uptempo numbers are fine for the clubs. Elsewhere, though, Eloquence is scattershot, too dependent on a slate of chanteuse vocalists and Flür’s own sing-speak. A gravelly, good-natured thing, Flür’s voice falls somewhere between Dieter Meier of Swiss experimentalist popsters Yello and reggae legend/oddball Lee “Scratch” Perry. He often sounds amused by his appearance in his own songs. “I am a goof”, he proclaims on “Staying in the Shadow”, and that’s the album’s most heartfelt moment.
Eloquence does at times manage to rise above the fey and arbitrary, especially when some noteworthy collaborators get involved. Jack Dangers from Meat Beat Manifesto lends his trademark kaleidoscopic electronics and some mellow synth pads to “Staying in the Shadow”. “Axis of Envy” with Nitzer Ebb’s Bon Harris sounds exactly like a Nitzer Ebb track fronted by Flür, with pulsing synths and punishing rhythm. Flür and Lindlahr deliver “Best Friend’s Birthday” by themselves, and it’s an unhinged curiosity about “freaking out” with some trumpet work that does just that.
Eloquence also features a handful of “bonus” tracks, which are mostly alternate-language versions. They’re noteworthy only for the appearance of ex-Pizzicato Five singer Nomiya Maki on the Japanese “On the Beam”.
Hardcore Kraftwerk fans should be pleased to have Eloquence, especially since Flür’s former band have released only a single studio album since his departure. Flür may no longer be a robot, but there’s still some machine left in the man.