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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Amon Düül II: Made In Germany


1) Overture; 2) Wir Wollen; 3) Wilhelm Wilhelm; 4) SM II Peng; 5) Elevators Meet Whispering; 6) Metropolis; 7) Lud­wig; 8) The King's Chocolate Waltz; 9) Blue Grotto; 10) Mr. Kraut's Jinx; 11) Wide Angle; 12) Three-Eyed Overdrive; 13) Emigrant Song; 14) Loosey Girls; 15) Top Of The Mud; 16) Dreams; 17) Gala Gnome; 18) 5.5.55; 19) La Krautoma; 20) Excessive Spray.

A particularly fine example of an album that was «born under a bad sign». With the peak of inter­est in «Krautrock» having already passed (except for Kraftwerk and their role in the establish­ment of electronic pop), with Amon Düül II themselves already recognized as a bunch of has-beens, never ever to beat the impact of Yeti and Lemmings, with the world starting to turn its at­ten­tion from progressive rock to early New Wave and early disco, our Bavarian comrades could, perhaps, have recorded the best ever album in 1975 and nobody would have taken notice. Which they did not — but they came pretty damn close.

Made In Germany is, as the title suggests, about Germany; it might, in fact, be the smartest, most adventurous internationally-oriented record made about Germany, and I have no idea why the German government never recognized that openly. Although it is a sprawling set of themati­cally connected songs, spread over two LPs, and starting off with an 'Overture', it is not really a «rock opera» — there is no story told here, in fact, the «vignettes» are not even unfurling in chro­nological order. But so much the better: «rock operas» tend to sacrifice melody for the sake of pushing forward the story (even Tommy could occasionally be accused of that), whereas here, nothing whatsoever is sacrificed for the «concept».

This is the last time that all the original members of the band truly put their heads and hands to­gether in a collective inspired effort, and it is clear that the task they set out for themselves — ba­sically, telling the political, social, and cultural story of Germany's last hundred years — invigo­rated everyone. The songs are not at all melodically complex: this is «art pop» rather than «prog rock», all of it straightforward enough to be instantaneously catchy, but always tasteful enough so as not to fall victim to the pop clichés of the time. Come to think of it, Made In Germany is pret­ty timeless — an expert ear would probably be able to date it to the first half of the 1970s, but it certainly would not be able to easily explain why.

Most importantly, there is no dreaded Teutonic seriousness here at all: all the details are laid down in a highly tongue-in-cheek manner, yet with sufficient respect at the same time. A wah-wah hard-rocking riff opens the album's first real song, along with a terrifying "Wilhelm, Wil­helm, the nation needs you!", but, lest you fear that this is going to turn into a crazy neo-imperia­list rant, it soon becomes obvious that we do not even understand quite well which Wilhelm the band are singing about — Wilhelm I, the creator of the Empire, or Wilhelm II, its destroyer? The song rocks out loud and proud, but the lyrics are really just a set of disconnected historical images floating before our ears.

Eight minutes of running time are predictably dedicated to Ludwig of Bavaria (given the band's background, their accent on all things Bavarian is understood), running from a comic fast-tempo vaudevillian introduction ('Ludwig') to a bit of deranged psychedelia in the psychotic king's name ('The King's Chocolate Waltz') to a lovely romantic ballad, with Renate viewing the poor fellow with tender compassion ('Blue Grotto'). There's also a bit of Fritz Lang (the upbeat, superbly cat­chy, and properly futuristic 'Metropolis'); and, of course, the issue of the Führer could not remain completely untouched — it is raised in a brief «link» towards the end of the album, where snip­pets of Adolf's speeches are presented in the form of an «interview» with an annoying radio DJ ("Adolf, baby, you're what they call a veteran in the entertainment biz..."), presaging Weird "Al" Yankovic by a darn good couple of decades. The «sketch» is sort of silly and not jaw-droppingly funny, but not too offensive, either — after all, a brief laugh at the expense of the führer never hurt anyone, or so I hear.

But first and foremost, Made In Germany is simply a damn fine art-pop album. The brief musi­cal links scattered all over the place are not particularly important, but almost all of the songs are creative, intelligent, and memorable. 'Loosey Girls' may be one of the best David Bowie epics that Bowie never wrote — pompous, gorgeously orchestrated, overlaying a whole web of guitar and brass riffs and solos, powerful and melancholic. Renate's 'Wide-Angle' is lush, up-tempo pop with echoes of Motown (maybe it's just me, but I do hear echoes of Diana Ross and 'Baby Love' throughout). 'Emigrant Song' is a successful stab at country-pop, with cool bass hooks at that. 'Dreams' is one of the finest incorporations of generic tango structures into a pop song, and argu­ably contains the album's catchiest riff and vocal hook (no wonder it was chosen to open the ab­breviated one-LP version of the record).

Echoes of the «old Düül» are only encountered twice. First, there is 'Mr. Kraut's Jinx', an eight minute long epic that slowly creeps along, growing like a snowball, expanding from a gloomy Gothic mood number into a complex rock jam and, finally, a carnivalesque anthemic part. And the album ends with 'La Krautoma', which is, of course, 'La Paloma' done Krautrock-style, with lotsa distortion, fuzz, and echo, and then, for a few minutes, mutating into a wild jungle jam, just the way they used to do it five years back — just to show everyone who is interested that yes, they still can do it, with just as much power and crunch as it used to be. It's just that, you know, times are different. People want more pop, less noise.

But frankly, I couldn't agree more, if only all sorts of pop were done like this. Yes, perhaps the record's slightly «comic» mood, the band members' German accents, the ambiguous Hitler punch, the overall length, and the choice of recent German history as the main part of the concept de­throne Made In Germany as a candidate for the best record of 1975, but that is only as far as the «brain» part is concerned. The heart is simply too busy digging all the cool melodies — heck, all the awesome melodies — to bother with that crap. Thumbs up without a second thought. Along with Yeti and Tanz, this is the one to grace your collection: in fact, grab it before Yeti if you are more of a pop addict than a psycho-jungle admirer.

[P.S.: Do not make the mistake of scooping up the original US release — abbreviated to the length of one miserable LP, and, along with all the links (which could at least be pardoned), throw­ing away such masterpieces as 'Wilhelm Wilhelm', 'Blue Grotto', and 'Wide-Angle'. Granted, it had a cooler album sleeve — Renate posing as Marlene Dietrich — but that particular photo does come along with the complete edition as well.]

Check "Made In Germany" (CD) on Amazon

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