La Dusseldorf - La Dusseldorf
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Klaus Dinger got a bad deal. His motorik beat became a pillar of whatever Krautrock scene existed, maintained an air of disconnected artistry, and, at least for the purposes of music-making, got dead well before he got old. All that, yet he’s not as widely parodied as Kraftwerk, as oft-cited as Can, nor as mysterious as Faust. He’s responsible for as many great albums as the lot of them, though, as an early member of and influence on Kraftwerk, as the driving force behind proto-everything-ers Neu!, and as frontman for his underrated post-Neu! project La Düsseldorf. In La Düsseldorf ’s eponymous debut, Dinger poked his head into disco and punk and opened himself in ways previously unheard in the more art-focused Neu!.
To suggest that La Düsseldorf had any actual impact on the genesis of punk or disco—or rather, any impact in addition to what Neu! already had—would be strictly revisionist, and probably entirely false. Still, its 1976 release date predates the true pinnacle of either genre, thus establishing Dinger as a plugged-in craftsman, if not an out-and-out visionary.
Neu!’s work received the benefit of a stateside re-release from Astralwerks. La Düsseldorf isn’t even the most revered La Düsseldorf work, ceding that title to Viva, which contains the frothy 19-minute opus, “Cha Cha 2000” and decidedly Neu!-like cover art. But Dinger never crafted a more glowingly seamless full-length than La Düsseldorf . Built on four lengthy tracks, La Düsseldorf laid floorboards over Neu!’s famous rhythm-mongering and fearlessly stacked punk’s rallying instincts, disco’s body-reverent trance, and pop’s vain sheen on top.
It worked, too: La Düsseldorf’s three full-lengths combined to sell over a million copies. From the opening moments of “Düsseldorf ,” it’s clear that Dinger is availing himself commercially in ways the art-focused Neu! never bothered with. A large, excitable drumbeat governs the track while a glammy keyboard draws a broad melody in purple Magic Marker. Three minutes in, Dinger breaks out a big pop uppercut: the wordless refrain. “Ba da bop bop! / Ba da Ba da daaaa.” It’s merely a tease, though: the vocal theatrics mostly end there, as the song carries on for over 13 minutes of teetering bodyrock.
Any doubts that La Düsseldorf would be blazing a more plebian path are erased seconds into the album’s second track, “La Düsseldorf ” (and dig the funny bone of anyone who names their band, their first album, and their first two songs essentially the same thing). A swooning, exultant soccer crowd sings for forty seconds before Dinger begins chanting the song’s title in a hilarious German accent: “Dur-se-dahf! Dur-se-dahf!” Dinger’s voice—often mocked for the epic-length lullaby “Lieber Honig” he whispered into the closing minutes of Neu!—is by no means strong or contoured, but it’s much improved here, his blocky sloganeering committed and cocksure.
“Düsseldorf ” and “La Düsseldorf ” are the best examples of Dinger’s hard-won eclecticism, inching closer to disco and punk, respectively, than he would at any other time with La Düsseldorf . Still, it's La Düsseldorf’s final tracks—“Silver Cloud” and “Time”—that are responsible for the album’s impressive range, subtly steering the eponymous tracks’ progression into erudite pop. “Silver Cloud” languishes in the middle, eight minutes of careening synths and “Chu Chu Chu” electric guitars, at once too agile for space-rock and too wide and waddling for dance music. It is the album’s simplest and cleanest track, though engagingly so.
“Time” is the album’s masterwork, and its endgame. Using the heartbeat drum kick and that same shimmering keyboard patch that Dinger wears out throughout the album, “Time” builds speed as dinger’s controlled, low tenor rumbles downhill, gathering the insistent snare hit and lush acoustic chords that fall in its path. An electric guitar solo, bashful at first, builds up enough confidence to squawk through the song’s climax. Anyone interested in shaking hands with the shy, speckled older cousin of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” can exchange pleasantries beginning at the four-minute mark. Perfect album closers are rarely this long—nine minutes—or obvious, but “Time” stands as a hearty summation of Dinger’s headspace: filled to the brim with hooligan chants, counter-culture ethos, disco floss, and sunset pop wizardry.