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Music Review - Einsturzende Neubauten: Perpetuum Mobile

On September 16, 2004

09/16/04 - On Perpetuum Mobile, Einsturzende Neubauten have stopped destroying music like they used to. On "Ein seltener Vogel," Blixa Bargeld retires the inhuman scream that sounds as if a train were screeching to a halt along his spine, instead looping his voice to create part of the song's melody. As dissonant as it is, it's a far cry from a band that once tried to cut through the stage with a powerdrill during a performance at London's Institute for Contemporary Arts.

"Destruction is not negative, you must destroy to build," was the declaration printed on the back of 1983's Drawings of Patient O.T., an album seemingly as unstable and abstract as the inmate's schizophrenic artwork it was inspired by.

When industrial music was more scrap metal than heavy metal, Einsturzende Neubauten excavated their landmark influence within the genre by tearing down musical structures and composing primal songs out of urban artifacts and factory tools from an overdeveloped Berlin.

Approaching their 25th anniversary in the post-9/11 world with a name translated as "Collapsing New Buildings," one has to wonder how a band can continually create original work with a career established on the premise of obliterating everything established. Could even the task of destroying convention become a convention itself?

While 1993's Tabula Rasa was a demolishing, conceptual slate-cleaner that rebuilt their sound from the ground up, on their new album the band trades the construction crew for a string section.

Perpetuum Mobile sounds like the band is revisiting their previous work as if it were a distant historical site, redecorating the concrete noise interior with melodic wallpaper. The first song may seem like a housewarming visit, but metal canisters are soon crashing down a staircase on the title track and the band is more than willing to jump into enough percussive dumpster diving to prove they are still not ready to settle down in one place.

"Selbstportrait mit Kater" shines sobering lyrical reflection onto an orchestral picture frame thoroughly pounded over with catchy hooks.

"Boreas," "Ozean und Brandung" and "Paradiesseits" knock down the album's walls, refurbishing spaces of beat-less, haunting atmosphere with washes of sheet metal ambience.

Subdued as it is, this release will make a suitable starting point for those unfamiliar with the band and an interesting surprise for fans who missed watching the album's recording sessions broadcast over the internet.

Sung entirely in English, "Youme & Meyou" is the album's most unlikely, albeit essential highlight as Bargeld tackles a likeness of the band as removed and detached as their pixilated webcam image. With a vision matured enough by old age to require postmodern glasses, the lyrics evoke the feeling one has when passing by a childhood home and still seeming to distantly belong there, wondering what type of person lives there now, and gradually loosing a little more of that vague sense of familiarity after passing each fast food restaurant that was never there before: "Cause out there's always a construction site/a Starbucks and/yet another Guggenheim."

If a cutting edge band such as this seems to dull slightly as time goes by, it may seem that way because the constantly evolving artistic landscape around them has been shaped by their influence. Innovation, however, can be built upon what has already been established just as much as on fresh soil.

Even though they have yet to burn out, Einsturzende Neubauten realize they are not about to make themselves ready to fade away. Destruction might not be negative, but letting something like Perpetuum Mobile stand as it is may not be so bad, either.

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