You could call Kraftwerk Germany's Beatles without causing much controversy. Like the Fab Four's, Kraftwerk's canon offers several rewarding entry points. Are you an avant-garde-leaning psych-prog freak with a fetish for ring-modulated flute? Kraftwerk 1 through Ralf & Florian will serve you well. Fancy whimsical yet ominous electronic bleep-space exploration? Go with Autobahn and Radio-Activity. Into mechanistic, streamlined trance-dance? Trans-Europe Express and The Man Machine are as sublime as it gets. But if you want the supreme Kraftwerk experience, you should tap into Computer World.
A prescient concept album about the computer's looming ubiquity and importance in the daily lives of humans, Computer World proffers the greatest merger of rhythmic hypnotism and melodic grandeur in recorded history. The disc's influence upon its 1981 release was immediate and profound.
Detroit radio jock Electrifyin' Mojo instantly cottoned to Computer World's specialness and spun the hell out of it on his late-night show (I was there, like the dude in LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge"). Techno and electro sprang from the album's elegantly fizzing circuits. Detroit techno gurus like Juan Atkins and Derrick May were dialed in to Electrifyin' Mojo's nightly broadcast and taking mental notes. In New York, Afrika Bambaataa and Arthur Baker drew inspiration from Kraftwerk's so-stiff-it's-funky beat science. Future European techno savants undoubtedly were breathing in these tunes as if they were pure oxygen.
Computer World begins with the title track, which pits a stately, 19th-century lullaby-ish melody against elastically percolating beats. "Pocket Calculator"—the math-geek anthem—follows, its novelty electro funk and bubbly bleeps making it an instant club classic. "Numbers" lumbers with a practically arthritic funkiness, with beats heavy as anvils, but they're contrasted with reedy synth oscillations that miraculously levitate the track.
Nearly every tune on Computer World elicits both optimism and trepidation for the binary new world. It's Kraftwerk's genius to show that what superficially sounds like paeans subliminally reveals pains. On "Home Computer," Karl Bartos intones, "I program my own computer/Beam myself into the future"—a thrilling prospect, but one fraught with danger.
True heads quickly sensed Computer World was not only hot shit, but also a harbinger of electronic music's future. Musical technology has advanced exponentially in the 26 years since Computer World's release, but the seven songs therein still tingle limbs and hearts with stoic glee. The album proved that these self-described robots had hearts of golden silicon.