Karl Bartos

[Communication sleeve]"Communication" (Album, 2003) !DSO Recommended!


Bartos' third album is striking. It inevitably temps comparison to the album of his former band, Kraftwerk, released not long after this saw the light of day. The thrust here though is pure techno pop in the vein of Computer World-era Kraftwerk, but with a more relaxed, more playful demeanour. Not for Bartos are the Krautrock soundscapes of Tour de France Soundtracks. Instead we have traditional pop song structures that whilst totally synthetic still show clear traces of the German's guitar pop influences as far back as The Beatles.

Communication is the theme as well as the title and a familiar interest in technology and social developments are to the fore. Some moments sound quaintly dated - see Fifteen Minutes of Fame wherein Bartos expresses his dismay at 'celebrity' culture. Whilst the subject matter of others seems as much circa 1983 as 2003 - see Cyberspace. Yet throughout there are several strong pieces, and the standard largely remains impressively high.

The compulsive bass and beats of opener The Camera chuck you in right at the deep end and you realise that this isn't going to pussyfoot around with pretence or artifice. The stonking follow-up I'm The Message achieves the sought-for balance between distinctive pop melodies and thumping beats. This is perfectly encapsulated in the computer graphic video that accompanies the track on the limited edition digipak release - a visual reminder of the rush of the live performance.

Reality comes across like the funky soundtrack that Space Invaders never got - complete with a cracking chorus hookline. Life harks back to the last album and clearly demonstrates the influence of Bartos' previous work with Bernard Sumner. Interview demonstrates Bartos' most playful lyrical work, witness the audacious first section:

"Instant coffee/commercial break
Marmalade/roller blades
Spiderman/traffic jam
Frozen pie/x-ray eyes

Only the closer, Another Reality, steps out of the familiar frame and into the more unexpected, mixing a heavily vocodered, stuttering voice with haunting wisps of tones that wouldn't be out of place in the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Technically, the album is a real achievement too. To get the most out of it and to appreciate all its subtleties, you really need to listen to this via headphones. Totally devoid of pretension, this album demonstrates that Karl Bartos is a talented songwriter of some stature. Communication delivers a thoroughly entertaining and stimulating 45 minutes of electro pop that's hard to better. 8/10

Rob Dyer (April 2004)

Official Karl Bartos website: http://www.karlbartos.com

See also:
John Costello