For the record, it’s pronounced NOY. As in “It sure is anNOYing when people pronounce it like NEW.”
Neu! (or technically, NEU! – exclamation mark and all caps – does this mean Moe.’s sporting of typographical affectations has roots? Good grief.) was a German duo consisting of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother, who formed the group after departing from Kraftwerk. The project is an exercise in beguiling restraint and their most salient feature is the ubiquitous presence of the motorik beat – a funkless, driving 4/4 pulse that propels many of their songs into krautrock classics.
Their three albums in the early-to-mid-70s are all outstanding examples of the krautrock aesthetic, insofar that one can assign an uniform aesthetic to the genre. Basically, they took Kraftwerk’s synth rhythms and reconfigured it to a rock format. Most people tend to gravitate toward their first (Neu!) or third (Neu! ’75) albums, but their middle album (Neu! 2) is the one that I seem to listen to the most often. It’s my personal favorite, and not simply because of the story behind it.
What happened was the band got their advance from their label and was so excited to have a somewhat decent budget for their upcoming album that they went out and bought all-new equipment and instruments for the recording. About halfway through making the album, however, the band ran out of funds. Dinger and Rother asked the label for an additional advance in order to complete the record; the label refused, citing poor sales of their debut album.
Brainstorming, and needing to deliver a full-length record, the group decided to fill the rest of the album in an unconventional way: they took a previously recorded single and manipulated it in various ways. A few tracks have them being played on a turntable at speeds different than originally intended. Another has it recorded onto cassette and eaten by the tape machine. And so forth.
At the time, this half of the album was scoffed at as being gimmicky filler and a swindle played on the consumer. Over time, however, the album’s reputation improved and is now touted as “the first remix album”, albeit a rudimentary version thereof. I don’t fully agree with that sentiment: remix albums are mostly done to generate additional revenue from a successful track/album and not out of necessity. On the other hand, necessity is the mother of invention, so I guess I should give credit where credit it due. I certainly appreciate the smiley-faced subversiveness of the project, no matter what the original reason for doing it was.
I really feel side two needs to be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate what they did. So instead of that, I’m sharing the opening track to the album. “Für Immer” is probably Neu’s single best song: shifting tempos and stretching time while maintaining the buzz of the main chord that runs through the entire 11-minute song. I love how the drums will swim underwater for a while before pushing themselves back up to the surface. It simultaneously rocks out and has a drifts placidly. Hopefully, this track will inspire those not yet in the know to further check this album out – it’s quite the masterpiece.