Saturday, June 25, 2005

DVD Review - Einstürzende Neubauten's Halber Mensch

If you’re reading this, and you obviously are, you probably already have a clue about who Einstürzende Neubauten is. But for those who don’t and decided to keep reading anyway, Einstürzende Neubauten (German for “collapsing new buildings”) is a unique and influential German industrial band formed in Berlin in 1980, and is most commonly identified by my friends as “punk rockers gone art house experimental” or “that band that plays the pots and pans.”

And, while Neubauten doesn’t actually play pots and pans, it does make outstanding ear-shattering post-punk industrial sounds by way of various power tools, scrap metal, and guitars. Neubauten’s unique and innovative sound has had an important and lasting impact on modern rock music (notice I didn’t say “music industry”), which is evidenced by more commercially successful acts like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Filter.

Originally released on VHS, this Music Video Distributors and Cherry Red region-free DVD of the promotional film for Einstürzende Neubauten’s classic 1986 album Halber Mensch contains ten tracks and has a 58 minute run time. Audio options include a 2-channel stereo mix and a simulated 5.1 channel track (inferior to the 2-channel mix). Sadly, there are no extras or Easter eggs on this disc. DVD menu options include “Play Programme,” “Track Selection” and “Other DVD Releases,” which contains six promotional clips from other Cherry Red Films releases. The film was directed by Japanese filmmaker Sogo Ishii, who, on a totally unrelated topic, receives special thanks from Quentin Tarantino in the closing credits of Kill Bill: Vol 2.

While studying the track listing, I noticed a notable difference between the DVD and the album. The Halber Mensch album contains songs that do not appear in the film and vice-versa. For example, my all-time favorite Neubauten song “Yu-Gung (Fütter Mein Ego)” is not one of the ten featured tracks included in the film. However, if you pay close attention to the scene where the band is warming up for the concert, you’ll notice the song being rehearsed for a few seconds.

The visual quality of the film really fits the band. The film is grainy in spots, lighting is used sparingly, colors are faded and the sets are dark. This film also is full of interesting and sometimes frightening images, quiet interludes and raw energy that combine to produce a powerful mixture of sound and vision. Memorable scenes include band members enjoying private moments mending hi-top sneakers and walking along the beach with a decomposing cat on a stick. There are some equally interesting shots featuring many of Neubauten’s instruments with accompanying on-screen specifications (printed in Japanese). Some of the more disturbing scenes are found in the disc’s “traditional” music videos (“Halber Mensch” and “Z.N.S.”), which feature centipedes feeding on flesh and a creepy kabuki-style dance troupe.

All the visual elements aside, what really makes this film work for me, are the live performances. Seven of the ten songs in the film are performed live. This aspect alone makes this film a must-have for Neubauten fans.

There’s great tension in each Neubauten’s song, and it really translates well to a live production. The band could have easily mailed it in and lip synced the tracks, but thankfully for fans they decided not to. Listen for lead singer Brixa Bargeld’s uncanny ability to scream his ever-loving head off. You’ve really got to hear it for yourself to appreciate it.

The film contains two settings for its live performances. The first is in the abandoned Nakamatsu Ironworks, where the band plays in front of what appears to be just the film crew, and still maintains an acute intensity. The second performance is takes place in Tokyo’s Kohrakuen Hall. There’s no substitute for a live audience and the band appears to feed off of it in their powerful presentations of “Die Zeichnungen des Patienten” and “Der To dist ein Dandy.”

So what is the film about? You mean you’ve read this far and still don’t know? Yeah, me either. I tried not to look too deeply into themes and symbolism that may not even be there. To put it simply, this is an art film. And I think if you say “art film” you can get away with just about anything. Maybe it’s typical for Japanese-made films about German industrial bands. I just know it rocks.

I wholeheartedly recommend Halber Mensch to all Neubaten fans, anyone with an interest in industrial music of the 1980s, or folks with a penchant for creepy kabuki dance troupes—and not necessarily in that order.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Robert Plant: Mighty Rearranger

I like this album. It's Robert Plant, the guy from Led Zeppelin!! This is important to note as a lot of this new CD sounds like Zeppelin, which is totally acceptable. Robert Plant is allowed to sound like his former pioneering supergroup. People like David Coverdale (Whitesnake) and Billy Squier are not. It's okay to be derivitive of yourself.

Before I get too deep, and to build a little credibility, I should state my affiliation, I am only an occasional Led Zeppelin fan. I typically tune out when "Black Dog" or "Ramble On" come on, staying only for deeper cuts like "Hot Dog" or "Thank You." So you see that I'm not a "golden god" shill. Hopefully, you'll take my opinions as objectively as I mean to communicate them.

The album has 12 tracks, 11 of which are actual songs. The final track on the album "Brother Ray" sounds like a studio outtake, included on the album as an homage to the late Ray Charles. That's just a guess, by the way. Please correct me if you have the real story.

Of the 11 tracks, I can honestly say I really like nine of them. Now I'm not saying this is the greatest album of all time, or even of the year for that matter. I would say that this is real rock, and not just some old guy trying to relive his glory days. The songs are strong, both lyrically and musically. Plant's band is top-notch, which is probably why they receive artist billing (Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation).

I've selected two songs that deserve praise AND laud. Take a listen to the soundclips on your favorite CD vendor's website:
  1. "Shine it all Around" - This is a fun song with a cool bass line and a catchy riff. The positive lyrics don't hurt either. I guess you could say it's "radio friendly," if there is still a place on radio for guys like Robert Plant (don't get me started on that).
  2. "All the King's Horses" - This is my favorite song on the album, and the most simple. It's just Plant and a couple of guitars (maybe a keyboard effect here and there). It has kind of a "Going to California" vibe, but it's a little more mellow. This song is a must for one of those "chill-out" mixes.
As I implied earlier by my statement about the number of tunes I dug, the real strength of this CD is that it's strong all the way through. Sure, there are weaker songs. But those songs are always surrounded by stonger ones. This is a great album to play straight through. Programming is really not necessary.

If you consider yourself a Zeppelin fan or even a fan of the dying art of album oriented rock, I suggest you pick this one up. In a time when artists from our past continue to put out sub-standard music with no remorse (Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney), it's nice to see one of the greatest vocalists of the rock era cares enough to release a whole album full of quality material.

Rating: Buy it