This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Neu! – ‘Neu! 75’ (1975) (Groneland Records/Brain Records)

In May Neu! released a vinyl box set featuring all of their albums and a previous unreleased live album. This threw the spotlight back on Neu! (German for new) for the first time in almost a decade since their three earliest seminal albums were reissued on CD in 2001 and so for this month’s Classics Critiqued I have chosen to discuss the most acclaimed of those: ‘Neu! 75’.

Michael Rother (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and the late Klaus Dinger (drums, vocals, guitar), formed Neu! in 1971 after working together in an early line-up of Kraftwerk. The duo always improvised in short studio sessions and the consistent disagreements over the direction of the group had a profound effect on ‘Neu! 75’, produced after a two year hiatus and though they don’t agree on this either the album is musically split between them. Side one, belonging to Rother, is ambient and laidback whereas side two showcases Dinger’s proto punk sound in which he switches to guitar and vocals and is joined by his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe, who would go on to form La Dusseldorf with Klaus, on drums.

Neu!’s integral sound was the forward thrusting, repetitive yet subtly involving beat known as motorik, derived from the German for motor and musik. The style as invented by Dinger is noticeably absent from ‘See Land’ and ‘Leb Wohl’ from side one. It is instead replaced by gentle ticking sounds, synthesisers, piano refrains and Rother’s unique guitar style: long, silvery sustained notes that cut through the mix without distortion. On ‘Hero’ the beat returns with added emphasis provided by the double drummer line-up playing what Dinger referred to as the “lange Gerade” (long line), “endlose Gerade” (endless line) or ‘‘Apache’’. Dinger creates huge swathes of guitar chords and synthetic texture and song regularly peaks to a crescendo but constantly moving forward. I was surprised to discover that Dinger plays guitar on the album’s latter half because in many ways it sounds similar to Rother’s technique on earlier aggressive tracks. The successive ‘E-Musik’ brings the intensity down and strips the sound back with a simple guitar rhythm part interlaced with wisps of synth and the drums ticking away in the background. The closing track ‘After Eight’ returns us to the principle Neu! sound, what their producer Conny Plank described as turning ‘everything upside down and inside out’.

Dinger wanted rock stardom, which came close with La Dusseldorf, yet this is rock music minus ego and excess and when let loose on side two he holds back from creating overblown portentousness. ‘Neu 75’ was an inspiration to more open minded punks like John Lydon and succeeding post-punk bands PiL, Cabaret Voltaire and Sonic Youth. In a recently published interview with John Mulvey Dinger expressed his pleasure about Neu!’s influence on punk.

Neu! also made an instant impact on David Bowie when he arrived in Berlin in 1976. Having heard Neu!, Kraftwerk and Cluster through Brian Eno Bowie was convinced the capital was the best location for his next musical reinvention. Such was the influence of Neu! Bowie asked Michael Rother to play guitar on the title track of ‘Heroes’ but Rother has since revealed he was told by Bowie’s associates that he had changed his mind and later heard Bowie claiming that Rother had declined the invitation and Robert Fripp stepped in to record the part.

Since the 1980s their impact has been expanded to Sonic Youth’s noise rock (member Steve Shelley drums for Hallogallo 2010, a Rother-orchestrated band playing the Neu! catalogue at festivals this year) and electronica groups like Mouse on Mars and Stereolab. The fact that Neu! were birthed from Kraftwerk makes sense as their efficiently streamlined sound is closer to the innovators and the techno artists who developed their sound than any conventional rock band. Last year ‘Brand Neu! A Tribute to Neu!’ was released featuring indie rock bands Oasis and Foals, Cornelius, a Japanese electronica artist, and Krautrock lovers Holy Fuck. With the release of the vinyl box set, ‘Neu 75’ can find a new generation of listeners and their legacy can continue for another 35 years.

Spotify playlist:

Neu! – Neu! 75