The Man-Machine is not just Kraftwerk’s most well-known record commercially, but is as visionary as any of the other ones that the band put out during their golden years in the '70s. This German quartet -- a brainchild of band members Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter -- started off with a style that was painfully abstract and lacking any concept of song-structure, and evolved with each record towards a sound that would become a stepping stone for electronic music. The Man-Machine is just that album, which has the minimalism perfected to pop music standards.
As with every other record by Kraftwerk, The Man-Machine revolves around a theme. In this case -- as the name suggests -- it is modern technology. This record is so cleverly cold, metallic and distant that it is hard to say whether the group is acknowledging and extolling technology or is making a statement about the de-humanization of mankind, which would be a fair argument to make, considering the follow up Computer World has blatant themes of loneliness and disillusionment due to lack of human contact.
With robotized vocalization on songs like “The Man-Machine,” “Spacelab” and “The Robots,” Kraftwerk evokes an eerie futuristic world of machines and no man. Ironically, however, it also dreams up a very human universe as well on cuts that are inspired by the urban life and are aptly sung in all human voices -- “Metropolis,” “Neon Lights” and “The Model.” If one half of the record romanticizes a future of machines and robots, then the other half, views our own world -- the human world -- with fascination and awe.
These Kraut rockers are as much affected by humanness as the lack thereof and to the giving in to human sensual delights. With the pastoral keyboards and a yearning vocals boasting of modesty, “Neon Lights” romanticizes the glitz of the city at nighttime and “The Model” glorifies (in a perverted sense) the superficially-created perfect woman.
Whether mocking or lauding the human advancement, The Man-Machine is an extremely smart (and funny) concept album. It is also a great -- probably the greatest -- techno record ever made. Kraftwerk didn’t have the array of technology of today’s time to play around with when it made this record. But irrespective of its rusticity, the music was way ahead of its time in 1978. It still is in 2007.