Ten years ago this week, the forefathers of electronic music released their eleventh and most recent album, originally entitled Tour de France Soundtracks and more recently rebranded as Tour de France. In fact, it was pretty much thirty years ago that the original single Tour de France was released as the first single from the later shelved Techno Pop album, which eventually resurfaced three years later as Electric Café (and is now called Techno Pop again). OK, this is getting confusing now. We’ll use one name for everything from hereon.
Which is handy, because unusually for Kraftwerk, Tour de France was only released in one language worldwide (all of their previous albums back to Trans-Europe Express had at the very least been available in English and German). It’s also worth noting that now this album has reached its tenth birthday, The Mix is 22, and Techno Pop is 27. I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope for anything new in the near future.
Most of the first half is taken up by the new title track, which was released as a single under the name Tour de France 2003. On the album, a gentle thirty second warms you up for Tour de France Étape 1. From memory, a lot of fans were pretty upset by this, and in fairness it probably isn’t as good as the original Tour de France track; it’s a lot more subtle and understated. But it’s still excellent – the lyrics describe the tour in a much more fluid way than the 1983 track.
As smoothly as any Kraftwerk release, Étape 1 morphs into Étape 2, which I think has some different lyrics and some slightly different high-end sounds, presumably representing a bit of general wear and tear on the bicycle. To be honest it’s often hard to tell the different parts of Kraftwerk tracks apart from one another. Similarly, Étape 3 turns up, and is a bit more noticeable, with some Computer World-style electronic bubbling and deeper drum sounds. Without dropping a beat, it then becomes Chrono, which reprises the previous Étapes and brings the whole thing to a close.
Side B of the first LP, if that is your format of choice, is taken up by the second full track Vitamin. In true Teutonic style, it’s a simple, minimal idea: a list of vitamins and minerals. But it’s executed brilliantly, and really does sound the way you should expect Kraftwerk to be sounding in the 21st century.
The second half of the album kicks off with Aéro Dynamik (I’m definitely not going to get into the title variations again). I think apart from the title track at the end, this is probably the best track on the album, and was a well deserved second single with the excellent remixes that were included. Actually, it’s probably up there as one of their best tracks yet, which puts it in extremely esteemed company. Then Titanium is a continuation of the main track.
Elektro Kardiogramm is up next, providing the title for their subsequent live album Minimum Maximum. A promo edit was released late in 2003, and it is, as you might expect, another track inspired by cycling. Of course it’s tempting to wonder slightly whether a new version of this album would need to include a track called Blood Transfusion, or even Blutübertragung. Or perhaps Kraftwerk‘s Tour de France is one which is free of doped out cheats. I wonder…
La Forme follows, mainly explaining how you need to eat the right things and take your recovery period seriously, while a gentle synth melody shimmers in the background. This then morphs into Régéneration to bring the album to a close.
Not quite though – there’s one thing that had been forgotten up to this point: the original version of Tour de France. That isn’t quite what you get here, but it’s more than near enough – slightly tweaked and updated, this is to all intents and purposes the essential original Tour de France, bringing the twelve (or six, depending on how you look at it) tracks of Tour de France (Soundtracks) to an excellent close.
It might have taken more than a decade to arrive, and it would be more than a decade before anything else new would arrive, but it was pretty excellent nevertheless.
I’m not sure there’s much difference between the original and remastered versions of the album, and anyway the essential version is the one in the Der Katalog box set, but you can find it on iTunes here if you haven’t got it already.