For years, the first three Neu! albums were collectors’ items, spoken of in hushed tones by krautrock lovers and praised by the likes of Sonic Youth, Radiohead, and Stereolab. The official CD release of these albums in 2001 let more curious people in on the secret (of where Stereolab got their ideas in the early 1990s?). Neu! 2 is best known as the album where Neu! exhausted their recording budget after having laid down just half an album’s worth of material. The end product is one of rock’s stranger listening experiences.
In desperation to finish the album somehow, Klaus Dinger, one of the two multi-instrumentalists who made up this incarnation of Neu! along with Michael Rother, hit upon the idea of recording both sides of a previously released Neu! single(“Super”/“Neuschnee”) at differing speeds. So the second half of the album features these tracks at normal pace, as well as variants taped off a record player, clicks and pops intact.
The opening “Für Immer,” which translates as “Forever,” is a road trip, a cousin twice removed of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn.” As the song unfolds, the insistent chug of guitars drops away, leaving only a drumbeat accompanied by a minimal riff. It’s like we’re driving in a straight line down a lonely highway, only for the scenery to change when the guitar barrage returns. “Spitzenqualitdt” (“Top Quality”) is the background to some strange chase, Dinger’s cavernous drumming keeping up pursuit until it runs out of puff. After the sound-effects collage of “Gedenkminute,” we’re thrown into the riotous “Lila Engel” (“Purple Angel”), a perfect soundtrack for a few moments of vandalism before getting caught by the cops.
The second half of the album is programmed for maximum disorientation effect — “Neuschnee” at 78 rpm is followed by “Super” at 16 rpm and “Neuschnee” at normal speed. “Hallo Excentrico!” is the weirdest example of cost-cutting on the album. Klaus Dinger holds his fingers down on the playback tape of “Neuschnee” to slow it while Michael Rother and co-producer Conny Plank have a conversation in the background.
It’s tempting to imagine what this album would have sounded like if Neu! had kept enough in the till to finish it as intended (ah, the beauty of what might have been). Having said that, Neu! 2 still represents their best work, and for all the right and wrong reasons, you’ll probably never hear anything like it again.
Written by Damien McVeigh.