Kraftwerk is a band that still has cachet. But there did come a time when Kraftwerk’s records were no longer as cool as they used to be – that is, when the rest of the music world started catching up with the synthesizer movement that Kraftwerk was so instrumental in sparking (case in point, Electric Café). These pioneers of electronic music were reduced to just another synth act (amongst a swarm of bands, some of which made Kraftwerk look like a cheesy pop band) when their last studio effort came out, after which they took a long pause before releasing any new material.
By the time Tour De France Soundtracks came about, electronic music had become a different world altogether, something that Kraftwerk would no longer influence but would have to embrace and find their place in. And the band does just that with such grace and marvel that it makes their work timeless, no matter what period they make their music in. For most of their career, Kraftwerk’s records were trendsetters, but Tour De France Soundtracks is very much a follower of the norm: a product of the prevailing techno music scene. Still, the group sounds as original as ever.
For a band that took so long to release a new album, Tour De France Soundtracks is no grand comeback. Kraftwerk doesn’t go for big and exciting beats or a dark and disturbed industrial sound, which a lot of synth acts from the 1980’s were embracing in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Instead, the album is minimalistic. In places, it almost seems like a clubby Kid A (the Radiohead album). In a lot of ways – the sparse beats, the artificial vocals, and just the conceptual simplicity – the old order still reigns supreme on this record. But for the fans of the band’s remix album The Mix and those who wondered what a contemporary Kraftwerk would sound like, Tour De France Soundtracks is very much an album of its times.
From start to finish, Tour De France Soundtracks is the one Kraftwerk album that is meant for the dance club. But this is like no other dance club record; it is sophisticated and artistic. Its sanitary perfection is gorgeous, without a hint of artificiality. This record is as classy as Kraftwerk’s older records were curious.
Tour De France Soundtracks is a new Kraftwerk, but with none of the old Kraftwerk purged from its system. This band is no longer visionary, but they’re still cool.