Unfulfilled possibilities: Einstürzende Neubauten’s Ende Neu

endeneu

Endu Neu was my first Einstürzende Neubauten album, which worked out well, considering that it’s their most accessible. It’s a collection of largely straightforward, frequently repetitive songs that still display the band’s intellectual outlook and unconventional approach to instrumentation. It’s enough to whet the appetite, but feels rather milquetoast and uninspired in comparison to much of their other work. Their earlier albums often showed a near-unmatchable primal chaos, while their later albums would display a honed refinement befitting a mature band. Ende Neu is caught in the middle, released in 1996, when EN were in the process of creative transformation, both in their lineup and in their music. Even in its title, Endu Neu (Ending New) clears the way for new directions, which it hints at but will not be embarked upon with confidence before the future additions of band members Jochen Arbeit and Rudi Moser.

In all of their incarnations, EN have a particular alchemy in their onstage performances that mean the live versions of their songs are usually better than those you’ll hear on their albums. This is markedly the case with Ende Neu‘s songs, half of which won’t reach full fruition until performed onstage with Arbeit and Moser. “Installation No. 1” and “NNNAAAMMM,” both playful and terribly danceable, are at their best on 9-15-2000, Brussels or at the 20th Anniversary Columbiahalle concert. In Alexander Hacke’s monumental basslines, Arbeit’s jangling and scratching guitar, Moser and N. U. Unruh’s percussive interjections and Blixa Bargeld’s unpredictable vocal loops, the songs come alive. “Was Ist Ist,” a supposed celebration of new potentialities, wouldn’t take its truest form until the Palast der Republik performances, where a choir of enthusiastic fans added their voices, both in guided chants and personal additions. Personally, I find “Ende Neu” pretty dull (the way the verses decrease in length by one bar as the song progresses is the only interesting thing about it), but it does improve when live, with Moser and Hacke bringing full force to their plastic drumming.

Of the other tracks, “Der Schacht von Babel” is a complete throwaway, while string-heavy “The Garden” is nice enough, but so repetitive and subdued that it doesn’t withstand multiple listens. (I wish EN would stop playing it at their concerts, let alone opening with it.) “Stella Maris,” however, is a lovely ballad. While it barely hints at Meret Becker’s great talents as a singer and performer, she makes a fine foil for Bargeld in this duet. Bargeld’s wavering guitar is also pleasantly melodic. That’s a phrase that stands well at odds with EN’s earlier work; it’s no wonder that original band member F.M. Einheit, who would soon part with the group, looked in on the recording of “Stella Maris” and felt total disinterest.

The song from Ende Neu that I feel represents EN at its mercurial finest and can’t be improved upon is “Der Explosion im Festspielhaus.” Silence and subtlety would be an increasingly dominant component of EN’s future work (as is underlined in the title of their next album, 2000’s Silence is Sexy), and they’re vital to this song. It describes the creation of the universe, an erotic event, wth a smooth bass line, a barely-there organ, the scratching of pen on paper, and male and female vocals. Bargeld delivers much of the lyrics in a bass rumble, but is joined by Becker and Jennifer Levy in a multi-layered choir of whispering and keening, announced by the clatter of a metal plate.

Ende Neu is EN’s slightest album, containing uncertainty that weakens it and possibilities that largely won’t be fulfilled here. However, it does display the band’s palette of electric, plastic, metal, and still more unlikely sounds, as well as concepts that come uniquely from the mind of Blixa Bargeld. Biba Kopf provides liner notes that describe how and why the songs were made, which adds to an appreciation of the album. Ende Neu cannot, I think, fail to give the new listener a sense of excitement about all that they have yet to hear from Einstürzende Neubauten.

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