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Feb 09

KRAFTWERK – “The Model”/”Computer Love”

FT + Popular67 comments • 6,616 views

#494, 6th February 1982

Cometh the hour, cometh the robots: there is no other moment in pop history when Kraftwerk could have got to number one here – and were it not for those meddling DJs, they wouldn’t have. It still feels slightly odd and unlikely to be writing about them – it’s like Noel Edmonds deciding to champion “Jesus” and giving the Velvet Underground a chart-topper.

Not that “The Model” isn’t an obvious hit: it’s never been my favourite Kraftwerk tune, but as those DJs realised its translated awkwardness gives it commercial legs as a novelty record. That isn’t to say I don’t like it: all Kraftwerk’s immense virtues are here too. Few bands have ever made cleaner or better designed records, doing just enough with a melody or a rhythm to make a track seem vast without ever crossing the line into bombast. Their music prefigured a clear-lined, contoured decade where the style and architecture of things would come into glossy focus.

Emotional architecture was another Kraftwerk speciality – drawing out surprisingly subtle moods from the scantiest of materials. That’s what drives the gorgeous and far-sighted “Computer Love”, still the best song ever written about the Internet and the atomisation it both enables and heals. Its chiming melodies are tender and hopeful, a reaching out – “just talk!” sang Coldplay when they borrowed the tune, with that special obviousness of theirs – but the long emptiness of the track leaves the question of a reply quite open.

Form following content: the lonely man with a TV for company is the hidden inverse of the bleak celebrity world sketched on the more famous flip. Though the narrators of “The Model” and “Computer Love” may have more in common than it first appears: as the song progresses, you get the idea its singer has never in fact met the girl he at first seems to know.

Kraftwerk gave the impression that their preferred model of human relationships is the peloton, not the nightclub, but in their eyes the fashion and celebrity system is as clearly a machine as anything else they’ve sung about. This could lead to a pat exercise in critique, Scientific Socialism style, but Kraftwerk are careful not to position themselves outside the system: “I’d like to take her home with me, that’s understood”. Desire is the model’s inescapable product (and yes, the song title is a pun!).

Kraftwerk’s inclusion in the (systemic) model accounts for the dispassionate, even fatalist tone the vocalist adopts: it’s an outlier in their catalogue because it’s one of their rare attempts to not let emotion show (compare it to the creepy cabaret vibe of “Hall Of Mirrors”, their other great meditation on celebrity). On “The Model”, Kraftwerk’s mechanoid image is less of a bluff than usual.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    The Wolfmen on 17 Feb 2009 #

    Have you ever heard the Coldplay Krafties mashup? Right here if you fancy lending an ear..

    http://planetmondo.blogspot.com/2008/06/cold-shoulder.html

  2. 2
    Conrad on 17 Feb 2009 #

    As a double A-Side, this was a combination of the contemporary – 1981’s “Computer Love”, and the recent vintage – 1978’s “The Model”.

    The Model’s real interest is as a showcase, a model even, of the repetitive but melodic 2 or 3 note synth chorus hook. The idea that the chorus of a pop song could work instrumentally, without the need for a vocal or lyrical hook, was a real breakthrough in creating the electropop/new romantic scene that by early 1982 dominated the UK pop landscape.

    The Model’s instrumental synth figure can be traced in “Love Action”, “Open Your Heart”, “Just Can’t Get Enough”, “Souvenir”, “Enola Gay”, “Messages”, “Cars” and numerous other synth-pop hits of the 79-81 period spanning “Man Machine” and “Computer World”.

    It seemed fitting that at the height of Kraftwerk’s influence, this seminal track from nearly 4 years earlier should see them at the peak of a Top Ten singles chart containing the no-less seminal “Being Boiled” and OMD’s remarkable “Maid of Orleans”.

  3. 3
    Geoff on 17 Feb 2009 #

    What’s the context with the DJs that you’re referring to?

  4. 4
    Conrad on 17 Feb 2009 #

    Tom – who were the meddling DJs? I can’t recall who was championing this at the time.

    I do remember the record’s bizarre chart trajectory that saw it fall from 2 to 3, before climbing up to Number 1, a pattern, as has been eluded to several times on Popular, due in no small part to a brief experiment with compiling the chart at a different time, the upshot of which was to show just how influential “Top of the Pops” could be on a record’s chart-placing.

    In effect, during January and February 1982 an act’s performance on TOTP (or in the case of Kraftwerk, the showing of the video) would not be reflected in its chart placing until two week’s hence.

    Haircut 100 must have worried when “Love Plus One” entered at 36, they appeared on TOTP, and the following Tuesday they were at – Number 36 still! Only to leap up to Number 12 the week after.

    Soft Cell’s “Say Hello Wave Goodbye” was another affected by this phenomenon. Marc’s appearance at the Pink Flamingo only truly reflected in it’s chart showing a fortnight later, when it jumped from 18 to 3, having been at 20 when the video was first aired.

  5. 5
    Tom on 17 Feb 2009 #

    #3 and #4 – sorry, Wikipedia to blame for this, saying that Computer Love got to #36 before DJs started playing the flipside (the reissued Model). Whether this is true or not, I dunno – the DJs were not named!

    My memory of this from the time centres on the video – I thought the black and white presentation quite weird and offputting, and it gave the impression of the song being older too (which of course it was, just not as old as 8YOM imagined)

  6. 6
    Lena on 17 Feb 2009 #

    Seeing as how I fell in love with someone on the computer via ye olde internet, I can’t give this single less than 10, and if its stepson had gotten to number one I’d be inclined to give it a 10 as well, just ’cause. (I’m not sure if the latter’s video is in black & white as an homage, or what.)

  7. 7
    LondonLee on 17 Feb 2009 #

    This getting to the top during the synthpop boom feels like the universe deciding to doff it’s cap to the men who gave birth to it in some sort of Karmic pop justice, even more so considering that ‘Planet Rock’ was to come later this year too. I’ve no idea how this got to #1 at the time, a decade or more later it would have been used in a car commercial and got there that way.

    Brilliant of course, though of the two I always preferred ‘Computer Love’ (and that whole album)

  8. 8
    Mark G on 17 Feb 2009 #

    I believe the German language version is somewhat less dispassionate.

    “She goes to nightclubs drinking SEKT?? KORRECT!!”

    (trans)

  9. 9
    SteveM on 17 Feb 2009 #

    I don’t really recall seeing or hearing Kraftwerk until The Mix in 1991 and by then they seemed relatively antiquated and frankly quite naff (at least to me at the time – even tho I was loving acts with material that clearly owed them a massive debt). Even when I saw them live in ’97 I still didn’t quite get it (to the extent that we left the tent – I wonder if this is the only time Kraftwerk played in a big tent as opposed to a proper outdoor stage or in a building, i know they’ve played a lot of festivals since tho – halfway through) but shortly after that the penny dropped and that was that.

    I thought this might just get a 10 but can see why it wouldn’t. I think the greater aspect of the track is the contrasting coolness vs warmth of the synth patterns and melodies (borrowed, imitated and referenced countless times since, including on Doug Lazy’s ‘H.O.U.S.E.’, Ladytron’s ‘He Took Her To A Movie’ and more recently the Basement Jaxx remix of Adele’s ‘Cold Shoulder’), rather than the vocal which I’ve always found a little irritating here and there (some of the couplets and rhymes feel a little too stilted, forced, maybe too inane for what is otherwise an elegant sober affair) but still compelling after a fashion. As with the Human League, they have several better singles (if not necessarily better “songs”).

  10. 10
    peter goodlaws on 17 Feb 2009 #

    I actually bought “Computer Love” and it flopped. “Krautwerk” then flipped it and it suddenly dawned on me that “The Model” had been hiding on the other side. To be perfectly frank, I wouldn’t have gone near either of ’em if it hadn’t been for the fact that I dug “Autobahn”.

    Arbeit Macht Frei! Nicht War?

  11. 11
    wichita lineman on 17 Feb 2009 #

    Re 9: My take on Kraftwerk in 81/82/83 was also that they were antiquated, if not exactly naff. It simply felt like they’d been superseded, yet the press fawned over them and dissed the likes of Dazzle Ships as Kraftwerk-lite. 5 year old technology always seems rusty. The Model was sweet enough, but not a patch on Souvenir; Planet Rock took Trans Europ Express’s* building block and turned it into pop’s Plug In City. Electro and New Pop were such great, ultra-modern thrills, that paying respects to these gentle pioneers seemed like listening to Robert Johnson because you dug Get Off Of My Cloud.

    *And I remember gigs where the soundman would stick on Trans Europ Express or Autobahn between the groups and they seemed to last for-EVS!!! Yawn….!!!!

    It took me until as recently as the late 90s (thanks to the pre-glitch, Anglo/German/Californian wave of Electronica) before I began to appreciate what Kraftwerk had done.

    All rather embarrassing. Glad I got that off my chest.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2009 #

    More than any other synthpop hit of the time, this was a source of fascination to the boy Billy. Nothing else ever seemed quite so other, to leap so far into a different, electronic, perception of the world. The tremendous stateliness and order of the riff was balanced by the measured, calm, nature of the foreign-sounding vocals. This seemed to make the story told much clearer than other pop to me; He saw the model in a magazine and wants to see her again: What could follow more logically than that?

    As a grown man I respond in the same way to the form of the thing, but it takes a few years of lived adult experience to really get the intense poignaincy of Kraftwerk – The awareness that the sense of order, harmony and balance in the music and the world evoked is hard to attain apart from experienced as fleeting epithanies of grace, and that life is more often a disspiriting mess. There’s often a kindliness and childlike gentleness to Kraftwerk, as opposed to the visionary harshness which you might expect if you’d only read descriptions of them.

    I can’t add much to Tom’s writing about what is great about ‘Computer Love’. Being ahead of your time doesn’t always equate to making great art, but it is just astonishing how prophetic that album is, in theme and arrangement a document of the way we live now, and the way which nobody lived in 1981.

    (For evidence of how much people were buying this for ‘The Model’ and not ‘Computer Love’, consider the chart placing of ‘Pocket Calculator’, the first single off ‘Computer World’ – a less than earthshaking #39)

  13. 13
    Tom on 17 Feb 2009 #

    “Pocket Calculator” is a bit rub though ;)

  14. 14
    Lex on 17 Feb 2009 #

    9 – I don’t really recall seeing or hearing Kraftwerk until The Mix in 1991 and by then they seemed relatively antiquated and frankly quite naff

    ^^This is pretty much my exact feelings re: Kraftwerk (except make the year 2002 or 2003). I can hear how they’re hugely important &c, especially to music I now love, but the production just seems thin and dated to ears attuned to 00s electronic music. Not their fault of course* but it just means I never feel like listening to them.

    *although having said that, I don’t feel the same way about other electronic producers from around this time or before – Moroder, Jam & Lewis etc – so maybe it is their fault!

  15. 15
    wichita lineman on 17 Feb 2009 #

    I like the way two of us have referred to Kraftwerk as “gentle”.

  16. 16
    anatol_merklich on 17 Feb 2009 #

    Re 8: Yeah, hearing Kraftwerk actually do a COMEDY VOICE was a major “WTF” moment for me!

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 17 Feb 2009 #

    having spent my early teens listening to Tangerine Dream (and seeing them in concert twice) I think I regarded Kraftwerk as a bit populist when they first appeared.
    Nowadays I think of that as more of a positive thing and I enjoy their music when I hear it played but have rarely felt compelled to invest time and/or money in them – although come to think about it I did buy a cut-price copy of the Tour de France single. I agree with earlier posts that many of the bands who were inspired by the K-Meisters were more compelling.

  18. 18
    Jungman Jansson on 18 Feb 2009 #

    My first contact with Kraftwerk was in the late 80’s. I borrowed copied C64 games from a friend in order to make even more copies of them, and some of these games were recorded on tapes that had previously contained Kraftwerk songs.

    The word “Kraftwerk” sounded slightly frightening and I assumed it to be some kind of German metal. A few years later, The Mix was released and i realised that they were something else entirely.

    “Thin” or “dated” are words I would never use to describe Kraftwerk’s music. “Minimalist” and “timeless” are a much better fit. I assume that they sound just as out of place now as they did in 1982, and that they will sound just as out of place in 30 or 50 years’ time. The comparison between Kraftwerk and minimalist, modernist abstract art might be tired and worn-out but is nonetheless apt. It’s the kind of stuff that will prompt people to say “This is not REAL art, it doesn’t require any talent, anyone could have done that” – but “anyone” didn’t.

    Listening to the German and English language versions of Kraftwerk songs are actually quite different experiences. When singing in German, Ralf Hütter sounds self-assured and sometimes even sneery (as commented on by Mark G, #8), but the English version often comes across as frail and insecure, or at times almost comical. “The Model” might be the most obvious example. Sometimes I prefer the German version, sometimes the English one – it differs from song to song.

  19. 19
    AndyPandy on 18 Feb 2009 #

    No 53 watch:a new entry this week for the very first electro hit D-Train “You’re the One for Me”*

    a nice coincidence in the week Kraftwerk hit the top…

  20. 20
    Mark G on 18 Feb 2009 #

    #16:

    For years, I thought it was their “Benny Hill” moment, however…

    I read in Wolfgang Flur’s autobiog that it was meant to represent the voice of the club owner that KW frequented.

    Basically the guy would meet them at the door and shout “My friends! Celebrating? YES! And your order is… (Champagne) SEKT? KORRRRECT!!”

    (I can’t recall if it’s actually the club owner on the record or not)

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 18 Feb 2009 #

    I wonder if 1991’s ‘The Mix’ did more harm or good to Kraftwerk’s reputation for those who hadn’t heard them before? For me, I think its one of the most fundamentally misconceived albums that I’ve ever heard…

  22. 22
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 18 Feb 2009 #

    haha billy you must expand on that position! i had a theory at the time that (from title on in) it was a conceptual and a contrarian move on their part (but i have forgot the details of my theory, which *may* have been a bit conceptual and contrarian on my own part)

  23. 23
    Tom on 18 Feb 2009 #

    The Mix was my introduction to Kraftwerk and I wuvved it Billy! I think I still prefer some of the Mix versions now.

  24. 24
    SteveM on 18 Feb 2009 #

    re #14 i think it is your fault ;)

    I absolutely adore the Tour De France 03 album fwiw, and Expo 2000…it’s been a great decade for the lads (I even loved Karl Bartos ‘I’m A Message’)!

  25. 25
    Billy Smart on 18 Feb 2009 #

    I have a feeling that my dislike of The Mix may be autiobiographical – It cost me nine pounds or whatever it was when I was a sixth former living off minimal pocket money and a weekly paper round, and when I listened to it IT WASN’T THE GREATEST HITS EXPERIENCE THAT I EXPECTED and I wished that I’d just bought second hand copies of The Man Machine, Computer World, etc instead.

    Attempting to analyse ‘The Mix’ more objectively, I think that the more prominent basslines and faster beats are fine in themselves but detract from the sense of order and harmony that is a large part of the tactile appeal of the originals to me. This may be a reluctance to let go of the associations that I’ve built up surrounding the original records. When ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ came out I wasn’t attracted to the reworkings of ‘Tour De France’ but was entranced by the new stuff.

  26. 26
    Jack Fear on 18 Feb 2009 #

    @25: A lot of people have covered “The Model” – as compared to other Kraftwerk songs, anyway. Chris Whitley used to do a solo banjo version in his live shows, and it holds up beautifully – and it’s surprisingly faithful, to boot. Oppose that to, say, Siouxsie’s version of “Hall of Mirrors,” which pinches the lyrics from the original but has to create a new musical context to frame them. That “The Model” comes through relatively unchanged, even when transformed into a front-porch stomp, is a testament to the sturdiness of the tune beneath the atmosphere.

  27. 27
    logged out Tracer Hand on 18 Feb 2009 #

    The Mix takes the impossible tech from Blade Runner (where photo enhancement can help you see around corners) to its musical conclusion, giving these old songs the basslines and subtleties that today’s demanding experimental microhorse fans expect. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if they came out with yet another “Mix” of their old stuff – and on and on! Talk about “timeless”! This re-sharpening prefigured 1) the enhanced versions of Star Wars 2) Blu-Ray discs and 3) Mad Men, if you accept early 1960s America as a blurry popcult object, and I do. In any case what’s lovely about The Mix for me is that it’s really something to see a band as deliberately modernist as Kraftwerk pull the rug out from their own (and their own fans’) essentialism. The Mix really does sound better to sensibilities raised on the actual thriving genre of electronic dance music. That said, I like the stubbornness of the originals. No one would ever produce tracks like those today – they’re stuck in their time, not quite right. I love it. And perhaps unsurprisingly, I like them even better now that The Mix exists.

    As long as we’re talkin cover versions, “Model” fans may want to listen to one from 1979 by Snakefinger, a guitarist for the Residents. You can look at the cover and listen to it here – http://learning2share.blogspot.com/2008/04/two-7-inch-singles-from-snakefinger.html

    It’s a woozy, churning, rock rendition that in 1999 was given, in a final coup de something, an electro treatment by DJ Hell as a white label single.

    EDIT — Included link and correct year for Snakefinger

  28. 28
    Billy Smart on 18 Feb 2009 #

    Cover Version Watch: Ride, 1992! On the ever-erratic NME Ruby Trax compilation. They, um, failed to improve upon the original.

  29. 29
    peter goodlaws on 18 Feb 2009 #

    Tom, is it just me or have you finally got rid of that horrid pink background, which caused a lot of rude comments from some of my builders when they caught me using Popular in my site office?

    Which ever it is, HURRAH!!!!!!!

  30. 30
    Tom on 19 Feb 2009 #

    The pink is back for now I’m afraid – it was a server glitch!

    But a redesign is on the way I’m told.

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