Kraftwerk – Computer World
Released May 10th, 1981 on Warner Bros. Records
Produced by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider
Peaked at #72 U.S., #15 U.K.
The German experimental proto-electronic band’s golden era lasted four years, during which they were a white-hot engine of creation that gave birth to an entire galaxy of new musical paths. Computer World was the last album of this electronic Big Bang, and the most intricate. Check the riff on “Pocket Calculator” – it was as intense as anything being thrust out of the dying first wave of punk, but detached and Euro-cold at the same time. When they’d begun doing the deconstruction of disco and funk into their particular brand of ‘computer music’, they’d been largely alone. By 1981, though, the more adventurous had begun to try to catch up. Kraftwerk’s influence on synth-pop, New Wave, and the nascent world of hip hop was becoming apparent by then, and in a sense Computer World is the last album where it can be said that Kraftwerk led the experimental scene. The band wouldn’t follow it up until 1986 and that album, Electric Cafe, didn’t hold a candle to their previous work.
Parts of the album might sound familiar to fans of other groups as well. The Japanese countdown on “Numbers” showed up again on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock.” More (relatively) recently, Coldplay lifted the haunting melody at the heart of “Computer Love” wholesale for “Talk.” Chris Martin apparently wrote to them directly to ask permission for this usage. In a wider sense, the sound would echo indirectly down the rest of the decade and inform rave culture and its splinter genres. While the album sounds almost charmingly old-fashioned today, the idea that computers could in fact be funky was a revolution at the time.