Kraftwerk’s 1974 album Autobahn was a game-changing record for the group, ushering in a series of seminal albums in its wake in the form of Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express and The Man-Machine which would leave their mark on popular and alternative culture indelibly in the following decades.
The title track is nothing short of iconic, a 22 minute depiction of travelling along the A555 from Koln to Bonn, the first ever Autobahn, with pastoral synth washes, mechanical vocals and motorik beats passing by the Volkswagen’s window on an endless drive. Close to four decades after its release, the attention to detail achieved on this masterpiece is astonishing, with a sense of orchestral depth conjured from electronic equipment considered rudimentary by today’s standards.
The occasional bursts of harsh and terrifying vocoded vocals make this far from easy listening, and add an ambiguity to the group’s predominantly optimistic relationship with technology which only deepens the piece’s sense of majestic mystery. The second side of the album also has some real gems in the form of ‘Mitternacht’, where the dead of night is described though bursts of piston noise and disembodied machine yelps, and ‘Kometenmelodie 1’, which moves through dappled chords in slow motion. ‘Autobahn’ is, simply put, an incredibly important document in the history of electronic music.