Unlike a wealth of the modern synth acts emulating genre pioneers (Greek duo Marsheaux’s overt Depeche copyism comes to mind), Kraftwerk’s revisiting their legacy isn’t the cringe-worthy, digital-tone laden redo it could very easily have been. Across all eight albums, an absolutely sterling effort has been made to rearrange the songs, striking a consistently perfect balance between natural, analogue voices and recordings that sound brand new. Bettering their own 1991 remix release The Mix (itself, bizarrely replaced on disc 7 by a special ‘headphone surround’ mix of selected songs, which sound virtually the same), the now Schneider-less group manage their entire discography without fault, perfectly readdressing the past and tactfully reworking it for the now.
A word briefly on the music itself: Kraftwerk’s eminent position in the history of electronic music, pop sensibilities, and record sound period, is undisputed. As one of the world’s first groups to successfully experiment with synthesisers and electronic programming, the German ensemble’s back catalogue is rammed full of highly concentrated and fantastically accessible sonic experimentalism, from the sprawling post-classical ambiences of Autobahn and the Radioactivity album, to the proto-synthpop Man Machine and the shamelessly European answer to New York’s early-eighties hip-hop/electro fad: Tour de France. Taken in progressive instalments or in its orgasmically-packed entirety, Kraftwerk’s catalogue is a thing of purest electronic beauty and essential listening for anyone interested in synthesised music and/or the recording of sound, full-stop. Admittedly, after Computer World, things get a little generic and uninteresting. Electric Café (rebranded in 2009 as Techno Pop) isn’t pioneering in the slightest; and the 2003 ‘soundtracks’ album of Tour de France paraphernalia was embarrassingly crappy. Kraftwerk are a heritage act though, and no one coming to this boxset, can seriously be doing so under the pretext of hearing the band’s post-‘86 material.
Some tracks appear unchanged, sounding punchier, yes, but otherwise just as you know and love them. The ‘new’ recording of The Model, for example, is a master-class in a copy and paste re-version, with a brilliantly full mix that just about warrants owning it in addition to the original. There’s a never a naff cut though – never a moment where you’d rather hear the old track because the new one is bad – all this to say, The Catalogue 3-D does not exist in spite of The Catalogue; rather as a peerless companion-piece.
Best of all, then, are the medley re-arrangements. Autobahn’s second side, for example, is merged into a single track: Kometenmelodie 1 / Kometenmelodie 2 / Mitternacht / Morgenspaziergang. At over twelve-minutes in length, this new edit is roughly half as long as the original, parent record’s second side, which definitely works in the music’s favour (anyone familiar with the Autobahn LP will tell you: its rear end sags). Elsewhere, The Hall of Mirrors is a fabulous two-minutes leaner (and all the more enjoyable for it), and the Radioactivity album’s field-recorded segments are compressed into a few minutes, rather than spread thinly across ten.
Physically, the set’s design mirrors that of 2009’s The Catalogue (another set comprising the original studio recordings, remastered). As with the previous collection, The Catalogue 3-D is available in German and English-language variants (although British listeners will have quite a job obtaining the alternate copies, being as you have to import them). Depending on your feeling, one or the other is more interesting; the English, for all its kitschy Eurocentricity, lacks the cold, metallic sincerity of the German. A synthesis would be ideal – the English, whilst delightfully dated, uses syllables that occasionally read awkwardly (case in point: Europe Endless vs. Europa Endlos). Lyrics aside, the versions are identical in dimension with all the same instrumentation and exactly matched run-times. A word of warning to you live-music aficionados, however – this release has been strategically edited to contain no audience noise, and is almost certainly overdubbed. In other words, this live album does not sound live.
If you’re so inclined, The Catalogue 3-D is also available in packages containing a book and/or DVD/Blu-Ray component, though I must warn you – it doesn’t seem like there’s much worth looking at. The visuals on these tours have been laughably primitive (think mid-80s, embryonic Pixar shorts), and the band themselves are infamously emotionless… you might even say ‘robotic’. According to early reports the surround sound audio is also dogged with audio-visual glitches, so this is all perhaps best avoided… not to mention that the same duo-linguistic nightmare ensues here when deciding how to purchase.
All in all, this is a fantastic release from Kraftwerk. Like The Catalogue, the band’s first three experimental LPs (Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf und Florian) are absent, and there’s still too much space afforded to the post-‘86 festival of ‘meh’, as well as a head-scratching switcheroo on The Mix’s disc.. For fans though, there’s the excitement here of hearing the songs you know and love (famous, obscure and otherwise) performed anew, sharply recorded and exquisitely produced without the normal atmospheric interference of a live record. As for any newcomers… well, this is a technically gorgeous portal with which to access some of the most important electronic music ever recorded, with a less patience-testing framework through which to enjoy the music for the first time.