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Einstürzende Neubauten, "Ende Neu"

This was never one of my favorite EN records.  It followed the near perfect Tabula Rasa and at its center was the dreadfully too-long "NNNAAAMMM," which kept it from getting regular front-to-back plays in my house.  But now upon revisiting the album due to its reissue, I'm surprised at how many of my favorite EN songs come from this underappreciated gem.

 

Potomak

Einstürzende Neubauten - Ende neu

The record starts with a quick and boisterous anthem in "Was Ist Ist."  Immediately, Blixa Bargeld's clever wordplay takes center stage as the album kicks into high gear around the chanted refrain that translates to "What is is, what is not is possible," it of course sounds much better in German!  I think that casual observers of EN probably most often associate the band with metal percussion, angsty collage, or the musical automatons that make performances so interesting, but Bargeld's lyrical style is for me the main draw on albums like this one.  With Ende Neu, the wordplay begins with the album's title which is formed by cropping the band's name down to words that are completely contained within it.  "Was Ist Ist" drives forward with the harsh cadence of consonants repeating, with words twisting to state truths and corollaries, and with phrases like "Einst neue Bauten" that play further with the sound and meaning of words.  This may be Neubauten's most clever work, and if it's occassionally more playful than powerful, it works more on the brain than in the guts.

From the opener, the album slows way down for the lovely duet ballad of "Stella Maris."  This is EN at their most coy and romantic—a side of the band that poked through on Tabula Rasa and its companion singles, but that is more fully explored here and in later works. "Stella Maris" is so pretty that it's hard to swallow following the brash verbal assault of the album opener, and that may be why I don't associate the songs on this record very well.  Songs like "Stella Maris," "Die Explosion im Festspielhaus," and "The Garden" work from simple, sparse melodies and bass arrangements, eschewing the mechanized fury found elsewhere on the record.

Though "NNNAAAMMM" is a perfect example of Bargeld's brilliant use of words as sounds and rhythms, its eleven-minute running time is an endurance test.  The track builds quite simply from the repetition of the words "New No New Age Advanced Ambient Motor Music Machine" and over several peaks and valleys it collects counter rhythms and the stretched out vocalized acronym "NNNAAAMMM" to induce a sort of trance—when I can stay with it.  "NNNAAAMMM" is the perfect track for a remix because of the brilliantly subversive idea to replicate machine rhythm with speech, but when I'm listening to the album straight through, the song can feel like a chore despite my appreciation for it.  Fans who were hoping that EN would turn out something motorik and maybe even danceable may find "NNNAAAMMM" to be just what the doctor ordered but for that type of track, I prefer the shorter and more mechanical "Installation No 1," which almost sounds like EN doing Kraftwerk with Bargeld repeating the oxymoronic command: "Disobey.  It's the Law."

"The Garden" finds Bargeld once again harnessing the power of repetition, this time in English as he is backed by a string arrangement and a melodic beeping that keeps time.  It's a song that features beautiful orchestration that recalls the aching of "Armenia" from 1983's Zeichnungen Des Patienten O.T. as much as it anticipates the melodic phrasing of 1999's "Total Eclipse of the Sun."  These are the Neubauten moments that I remember most fondly—the quieter and more refined moments where Bargeld's lyrics and the way that he utters them have time and space to sink deeply into the brain.  These are the moments when EN is functioning like a subversive pop band with hooks and catchy lines that linger long after the clanking and crashing of their more violent work has faded.

In the end, I don't know that Ende Neu works for me as an album as much as it just provides some very good songs for the greater EN catalog.  I love the cover and the title and the way that it cheats the listener into thinking that EN the "rock band" is back with its clamorous opening cut, but I find myself skipping over some of the songs to get to the ones that really resonate.  With an entire remix album also available and an entire disc of Darkus remixes of "NNNAAAMMM," there's a lot to choose from.

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