Album Reviews: Cluster, Robbie Robertson and Punk 45: Les Punks

Album Reviews: Cluster, Robbie Robertson and Punk 45: Les Punks

Cluster

Kollektion 06: Cluster 1971-1981 (Bureau B)

In the ’70s, Cluster’s Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius were part of Germany’s glorious outpouring of synth-based instrumental rock, simultaneously extending ’60s experimentalism and pointing forward not only to the golden age of synthpop, but to bands like Stereolab, Tortoise and Boards of Canada. Cluster’s psychedelic soft bulletins could melt into space, lucidly. Or they could just shimmer.

Kollektion, compiled by Tortoise’s John McEntire, showcases Cluster’s range. “Zum Wohl” drifts amiably and “Heiße Lippen” churns like a machine, while “The Shade,” stately and forthright, could be the theme for an alternate happy ending of A Clockwork Orange. “In Ewigkeit” is a post-blues that winks as it fades away—it kinda sounds like Tortoise, as does “Großes Wasser,” which kicks off with a groggily fierce drum groove and what sounds like an angry carillon, before synthesized string solos and horn passages appear and dissolve over 10 protean minutes. Three cuts are edited here—irksome and puzzling, since Kollektion is under an hour long. Still, while Cluster’s individual albums are plenty strong on their own, Kollektion is a solid introduction to a great band.

Robbie Robertson

Testimony (Capitol)

The track selection on Testimony, the album accompaniment to Robbie Robertson’s newly published autobiography, is odd. It provides some overview—a couple Hawks songs, an outtake from Blonde on Blonde, a live cut from the Before the Flood tour and songs from across Robertson’s solo career—which makes sense. So does the inclusion of pretty much every Robertson lead vocal with The Band, which were rare occasions because, at his peak, Robertson was the group’s fourth-best singer. Happily, these cuts include the magnificent “Bessie Smith” from The Basement Tapes, plus the gorgeous, elegiac “Twilight” (a demo) and the endearing yacht rock slow dance “Out of the Blue” (an outtake).

Sadly, the rich remainder of The Band’s output is represented by just one album cut (“It Makes No Difference”) plus four songs from the Rock of Ages concert. Whatever might account for the selection, Testimony feels weirdly blindered. And then there’s the issue of Robertson’s solo stuff, which is tedious and lame, no matter what Jann Wenner’s minions have asserted through the years. So Testimony the album is a decidedly mixed bag—but maybe the book is better?

Various

Punk 45: Les Punks: The French Connection: The First Wave of French Punk 1977-1980 (Soul Jazz)

Forget the cumbersome title—this compilation is aces. And if it’s hard to take the idea of French punk seriously, then never mind serious—this stuff is giddy fun even with the nihilisme dialed up. Behold the band names: Marie et les Garçons. Guilty Razors. Angel Face. Aw, French punk! Metal Boys’ “Sweet Marylin” kinda sounds like Suicide, but it just ends up being adorable.

Most of Les Punks is adorable—which is to say endearing, not twee. The Fantomes’ cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is ferocious, but even more, it radiates a sheer joy in playing punk—an echo of ’60s garage bands ripping through “Johnny B. Goode.” Tying these threads together, there’s punkabilly on Warm Gun’s “Broken Windows” and buzzy garage rock on Electric Callas’ “Kill Me Two Times.” Elsewhere, there’s bouncy post-punk on Asphalt Jungle’s “Planté Comme un Privé,” frantic new wave on A3 Dans Le WC’s “Photo Couleur” and marks of early Devo on Charles De Goal’s “Dans le Labyrinth.” Les Punks is a shining testament to punk’s galvanic global force—and it’s great punk.

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