Vitamin Label Compilations

[Cracking the Code: Tribute to Kraftwerk sleeve]"Cracking the Code: Tribute to Kraftwerk" Various Artists (Album, 2000)


I'm always wary of the word 'tribute' when it is used in a musical context. It conjures up thoughts of compilations of cheesy synth pop bedroom duos struggling to produce barely competent, let alone worthwhile, interpretations of countless Depeche Mode songs. Fortunately, Cracking the Code rises above my preconceptions and provides an interesting diversion from a bunch of unknowns. The US label Vitamin specialises in tribute albums, having also released electronic tribute albums dedicated to Nine Inch Nails (Radiant Decay), Radiohead (Plastic Mutations) and, ahem, Ricky Martin (!) among others. So their proposition for offering these renditions of Kraftwerk seems a logical one. After all, much has been said of the influence Kraftwerk have had on all kinds of music, but most obviously dance and techno.

The sleeve notes make great play of the explosive capabilities of electronic and so having been conditioned to be ready for when "the boards ignite with an overdriving blast of alien-powered sound", the results however came as a bit of a damp squib. The interpretations are far more mild than the notes imply, although Reload's rocking, guitar-driven version of Showroom Dummies, Beam Up's deep bass breakbeat take on Antenna and Dynamichrome's The Robots go a little way towards delivering the promised power. Los Angeles' Ambidextrous get to do the cover of The Model and the tablas, Arabian horn and exceedingly 'smooth' vocals provide a convincing alternative. Most surprising is Jun-Jun Clinic's laid-back, cool jazz version of Music Non-Stop; it's piano, double bass and chaotic percussion is quite something.

The sleeve notes also talk of how the artists on this compilation supposedly intensify "the emotional emptiness and raw angry energy" of Kraftwerk's music. The first statement entirely misunderstands what Kraftwerk are really about - the sort of phrase more commonly associated with rock press journalists who do not understand electronic music; and 'raw anger' is certainly not one of the first phrases that pops into my mind when listening to Kraftwerk's music. The Sex Pistols, sure, but Kraftwerk - anger? Fortunately, this lack of understanding seems to stem from the Vitamin label rather than the artists that have contributed some entertaining, if always inferior, interpretations. 7/10

Rob Dyer