Michael Rother – ‘Solo’ CD Boxset | Out Of Stock
Grönland / CDGRON204
Out of stock
ELECTRONIC SOUND REVIEW FEBRUARY 2019
Tales of krautrock’s retreat to the bucolic idylls of Germany’s forests and farmsteads make for compelling exploration. The uncompromising Faust were ruralists from the start, while legendary über-producer Conny Plank based himself in a converted barn in the sticks between Bonn and Cologne.
For a long, productive period in the 1970s, Cluster and Harmonia’s keyboard genius Hans-Joachim Roedelius resided, along with his Cluster partner Dieter Moebius and Neu!’s Michael Rother, in Forst, a sprawling, near-derelict old farmhouse commune by the River Weser in Lower Saxony. It was famously visited by Brian Eno on a break from producing Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ in Berlin, and his track ‘By This River’ from ‘Before And After Science’ was, in fact, an ode to the place. Forst remains Rother’s home to this day, and still houses many of the instruments that made Neu! and Harmonia sound so uniquely timeless – the homemade fuzzbox, Farfisa organs and Rother’s Gibson Les Paul, Fender Mustang and effects pedals.
Of course, we know much about the albums Rother recorded at Forst with Roedelius and Moebius as Harmonia, as well as the work Cluster produced there. Less revisited and mythologised though, is Rother’s solo work, borne from the sense of freedom and experimentation the environment fostered. Which seems surprising, given that Rother is perhaps better known than Roedelius thanks to the unique place in musical history that Neu! inhabit. There is also the fact that (aside from Conny Plank’s role as producer on the first three), Rother’s first four solo studio albums owed their motorik precision and rangy percussive eclecticism to Can’s legendary drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Neither Harmonia albums sold well, and so following 1975’s ‘Deluxe’, both Roedelius and Moebius decided they wanted to do their own separate thing, leaving Rother band-less and with little choice other than to reluctantly fly solo himself. Hence 1977’s ‘Flammende Herzen’ (‘Flaming Hearts’), which opens this lavish boxset.
‘Solo’ collects together those first four startlingly excellent longplayers, as well as a set of remixes, a recent London live show, and some of his distinctive (at times John Carpenter-nodding) synth-led soundtrack work.
‘Flammende Herzen’ opens with its title track, which is in effect a beautiful, acoustic pastoral reprise of so much of what we love about both Rother and Neu!. The minor key longing, infinite horizons and unparalleled grace are all there in a mere couple of minutes. And, as is Rother’s gift, it is rendered with such élan, soaring with such serenity, from those guitars of his. The synth chord-fuelled ‘Karussell’ is a flawless shimmering joy too, and Liebezeit’s drums reach a mesmerising apogee on ‘Zeni’, undulating with an astonishing muscular bravura.
The album sold surprisingly well – easily better than anything Rother had previously been involved with. He actually made some money from the release too, hence the title of the similarly sublime follow-up that came a year later. On 1978’s ‘Sterntaler’ (‘Star Money’), Rother continues to weave his magic, building pieces like the joyouslycomplete title track, that gently rises from reiterated simplicity through melodic complexity to climactic rapture. He does it with such a deft, unaffected touch, you never want it to end.
The difference with 1979’s ‘Katzenmusik’ (‘Cacophony’) is a reduced reliance on Jaki Leibezeit’s percussion. And though less propulsive as a consequence, its poised pursuit of a more ambient-leaning meditative bliss is welcome, while 1982’s melancholy ‘Fernwärme’ (‘District Heating’) marks a clearer shift. A darker take on kosmiche, its organs/synths and processed electronics dominate on downtempo offerings such as ‘Elfenbein’ and the title track. And though not quite in the same league as the previous three (possibly down to Plank’s absence), the pensive, exploratory air marks a changing mood that perhaps chimed with the times.
While the aforementioned extras here (some of them previously unreleased) may not quite divert you to the same extent as these principal offerings, there is a weighty legacy to revel in. Pellucid, elevating and supremely graceful, much of this body of work is easily as indispensable as many of the better-known collections made by an impossibly scant number of Germans in the 1970s. Important people, who changed music forever. Rother’s exquisite brand of spirit-lifting futurism still makes for thrilling listening, even four decades down the line. His work will surely continue to find its way to grateful new ears for many decades to come.