Tour de France Soundtracks (Astralwerks)

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The Magdalene Sisters Cedar Lee
On Kraftwerk's first studio release in a dozen years, the band expands on the theme of its 1983 single "Tour de France," which immortalized the event with a rhythm built out of heavy breathing and vocodered vocals referring to the main points along the race. Tour de France Soundtracks takes a look at various elements that go into a cyclist's effort, from muscle preparation ("La Forme") to the essential nutrients one might ingest (the daft "Vitamin").

"Tour de France" itself appears in four versions, ranging from an ambient mix to a rousing -- and disconcerting -- arena-sized take, complete with new lyrics. These variations feel like a ploy more than anything else; they don't enrich the original in any way.

The album improves markedly in its second half. The undeniable rump-shaker of the set, "Aéro Dynamik," employs a quickened pace and metallic breakbeats. Later, "Electro Kardiogramm" mimics a heartbeat in its rhythm and maintains an unwavering groove. The trouble is that, although the album's pleasant, most of it sounds like it was recorded at the time of the original single. It doesn't break any new ground for a group regarded as an innovator in electronic music. Perhaps it's unfair to have such high expectations, but that's a testament to Kraftwerk's reputation as the godfather of modern electronic music -- a reputation that's not helped out tremendously here.

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