David McNamee on a new krautrock tribute compilation

A compilation showing Neu!'s musical influence is timely. But what are the Gallagher brothers, Kasabian and Primal Scream doing on there?

My favourite Oasis quote came from the time of Be Here Now's hysterical media domination, when a magazine polled Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood on where he felt Oasis should go next. The avant-schmindie guitarist jokingly suggested a teamup with nascent tweesters Belle & Sebastian, before admitting that, though Noel Gallagher doesn't do much more than run up and down the blues scale, neither does he really. It seemed pretty funny in 1997, but not nearly as funny as the idea of Oasis heading up a Neu! tribute album in 2009.

And yet that's exactly what's happened. An old Oasis b-side – the pseudo-mystical I Can See It Now – is being promoted as the main attraction of Brand Neu!, a new compilation examining the "influence on today's artists" of the krautrock masters.

Neu! were a band relatively ignored during their original run of three classic albums in the early 1970s, but their influence is felt powerfully now, so a compilation like this is timely. I'm just not sure about the tracklisting.

Who else is on it? Well, there's Kasabian. And, erm, Primal Scream. If the point of Brand Neu! is to bend your brain through the sheer anti-logic of its inclusions – in the same way perhaps that Neu!'s improbable music fired cerebellums – then I guess it's worked, sort of.

In this decade, krautrock – the ultimate niche genre – finally seeped into the mainstream, via the dancefloor-friendly chug of motorik. The three pieces that defined motorik – Hallogallo, Für Immer and Isi – were all openers on Neu! albums. Motorik's acceptance into mainstream indie was perhaps aided by the deceptive simplicity of its musical elements: Klaus Dinger's drums maintained a comprehensible 4/4 beat with minimal flourishes, while simple, one-note guitar drones hand-glided over the surging rhythmic chassis. Neu!'s was a sound as elegant as classical music, but performed seemingly with the musical proficiency of punk.

But listening to the tracks on this tribute CD, it's evident that something got lost in translation. There isn't a single one of these bands that has an ounce of the swing that defined Neu! The sound of Neu! was unique precisely for its groove, its almost watery fluidity. It was dance music for the soul.

So, on this tribute, Oasis pare down their usual trebly, coke-fidgety guitar solo scree into a monolithic, graceless plod that flails at a mirage of psychedelia; Kasabian sound like a garage band version of Primal Scream, and Primal Scream themselves are just billowing rock star egotism and an affected nihilism completely at odds with the humble, hippyish philosophy of krautrock. Foals are merely an enthusiastic emulation of their postrock heroes – possibly the most funk-deprived of all avant-rock substrands – and Ciccone Youth's Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening to Neu chokes on its own meta-textual smugness. Cornelius and Holy Fuck are awesome, but what should be on here are the shimmering loops of OOIOO, or the blissed-out-forever soul of Arthur Russell, Gang Gang Dance, Oneida or Excepter. Artists that don't just fashion-accessorise the now-trendy motorik shuffle, but who actually engage with Neu!'s sonic agenda on a more meaningful level than Noel's sleeve-note quote of "Proper tour bus music! Spiritual!"


David McNamee

The GuardianTramp

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