Klaus Dinger was a tragic figure. He was a visionary who managed the rare feat of appearing in three highly-influential groups (Kraftwerk, Neu!, and La Dusseldorf – though his time in Kraftwerk was brief, and long before they’d released any of their classic work), but seemed to spend most of his time on Earth frustrated and upset. Some of the articles on Dingerland are incredible; in this one you can see Dinger meticulously correcting every small detail on a brief biography (but mostly bitterly editorializing), and here you can read about how a failed relationship with a friend of Florian Schneider’s sister wound up informing much of his work. He was a guy who needed some sort of guidance – Rother as the “straight man” to Dinger’s wilder tendencies was what made Neu! work so damn well – but he wound up alienating just about everyone he ever worked with. He deserved some measure of success but continually shot himself in the foot any time it came creeping around.
Thus, the story of Blue, the “lost” 5th La Dusseldorf album. Formed in 1976, La Dusseldorf was Dinger’s most successful group; despite trafficking mostly in lengthy instrumental jams, the single “Silver Cloud” hit #2, and Viva sold 150,000 copies, which led to the band being offered a big contract, which they punted on all counts. Their next album was called Individuellos, and this was the moment where everything went wrong; an odd fate for such a cheery, saccharine sounding release. Money and infighting caused the band to tear apart, along with the suicide of piano player Andreas Schell, and the result was an album that felt like it was missing something; not even more piano, but rather there was a dearth of actual songs here, with many of the tracks using the exact same chord sequence. It’s this lack of new ideas that really ground Dinger’s career to a halt; he’s done a lot of albums since, but they’re primarily made up of improvisations, extended, static compositions, or recycled ideas (Dinger’s grand opus “Cha Cha 2000” was re-recorded five more times after Viva, including a 104-minute live version), and a lot of them suffer in the sound quality department.
Still, there are some hidden gems in Dinger’s catalogue, if you know where to look. After pissing off his La-D bandmates, Dinger tried to release the 4th La Dusseldorf album himself, but due to a legal battle with the rest of the band, it wound up getting released under his own name (plus “Rheinita Bella Dusseldorf”, a fictional name intended to clue in La Dusseldorf fans – “Rheinita” was their biggest hit). It’s a good album that fans ought to seek out, including a re-recording of La Dusseldorf’s final single “Ich Liebe Dich” (another tribute to Anita, whom Dinger had not seen in close to a decade). But it flopped miserably (perhaps as nobody really knew who “Klaus Dinger and Rheinita Bella Dusseldorf” were), and Dinger soldiered on with his next project, Blue; again intended to be a La Dusseldorf album – it’s subtitle was “La Dusseldorf 5”, again featuring no other actual members of that band outside of Dinger himself. This time the label rejected it outright, so the project sat until his deal with Captain Trip records, which allowed him to release whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to. Most of these releases, some of which were under the rather misleading name of La! Neu? (Klaus Dinger was the only member from either of those bands), are not very good, for reasons outlined above. But it did allow Blue to finally see the light of day.
That’s very much a good thing, because Blue is the sort of hidden gem that collectors dream about. It’s certainly his best work post-Viva – sure, Neondian is very good too, but those who know Dinger’s work would probably it a bit familiar. Blue on the other hand feels very off-kilter; there are a few other musicians on the second half, but for the most part everything was played and produced by Dinger himself, and it was all happening around the point where Dinger was starting to lose his freakin’ mind. Certainly Conny Plank wouldn’t produce an album this way; there’s a lot of gratuitous reverb and sustain, and certain instruments are inexplicably put way too high in the mix.
Anyway, let’s tackle this side by side, as there’s a big difference between the first half and the second (the album’s working title, Five Pearls and a Hammer, will definitely make sense once you hear it). The first half is melodic and (mostly) laid-back; leadoff “Arms Control Blues” indeed rides a rather bluesy riff, but it’s almost absurdly mellow, shimmering off the walls of the studio to create a surreal atmosphere; all along there’s a voiceover by Dinger, strarting with “As I stand here in early ’85, recording this song, in my 16-track studio on the Dutch coast” – I mean who starts an album off that way? It is essentially a diatribe about the nuclear arms race, ending on a rather ambitious note: “I’m working hard on the development of music which will paralyze the military power brokers and create paradise on Earth.” Hey, a man can dream – this music was meant to be played loud, like on the top of a mountain loud.
The music works because, like all of Dinger’s best stuff, there are a lot of great melodies here. “Blue” is very nearly a pop song; there’s a catchy vocal melody (sung by Dinger’s step-daughter) and a part that cleverly recycles a bit of “Cha Cha 2000”, and sequencers abruptly pinging and echoing around. The overall effect is pleasant, but like everything on Blue, it’s a little disorienting. “Lilienthal” follows, and it’s one of the most overtly gorgeous things that Dinger has ever done, with a booming rhythm, and long, sustained synthesizer tones; more than anything it works due to Dinger’s willingness to just let it all hang out, as any sort of vocal would just ruin things. There’s almost a proto-IDM vibe to this one; in their more tender moments you could imagine Aphex Twin or Plaid trying to sound like this. There are a couple more brief tunes that follow – “Touch You Tonight”, a short, minimal rock n’ roll song that mixes everything loudly, and “Fur Omi”, a sentimental tribute to Dinger’s grandma played on a saw lead synth (it sounds like the sort of music your NES might generate).
The second half is “the hammer”; an 18-minute version of the stormer “America”. This was actually recorded during the same sessions as Neondian, but the take on that album was shorter and more grounded, with a synthesizer overriding the guitar. Here, it’s just an all out basher; the synth is dropped and the guitars are turned way up. It’s not technically a live track but it sounds like it was recorded in one take. Essentially it picks up where “Hero” and “After Eight” on Neu! 75 left off; it’s 18 minutes of non-stop thrash, constantly breaking itself down and starting up again. Not only is there some great instrumental work (particularly Raoul Walton’s bass, which constantly runs up and down the track), but Dinger himself sounds possessed, yelling through waves of cascading guitar noise. It’s as frantic as we’ll ever hear him; like everything else on this album, noises echo and ping around all over the place, making it sound like the band is rocking out in an abandoned warehouse. My only complaint is the whispered vocal that was overdubbed in, as it winds up nerfing some of the intensity (well, that and the lyrics, which are more than a little spiteful towards the ol’ land that I love). Otherwise this is the sort of “eternal jam” that’s right up there with the best of Can and Hawkwind – hell, even those groups have difficulty finding a groove as funky and furious as this one.
Put both halves together and you get the yin and the yang of Klaus Dinger; he often branded himself as a “hippie-punk”, and on Blue you get a little bit of both. I’d put it next to Neu! 75 and La Dusseldorf as the jewels in the man’s catalog. What really impresses me here is the use of digital sound. The mid-80’s were full of blocky synth patches and paper-thin drums, the kind of thing that must’ve sounded way better in the studio than it wound up sounding on the record (think: Devo’s later stuff). But Dinger really knows how to air those sounds out and create something evocative and big. At the time he was also working on a comeback album with Michael Rother, tentatively titled Neu! 4; the album wound up being aborted, though Dinger eventually released an unfinished version of it anyway, without Rother’s permission. Blue does offer some clues as to where Neu! 4 was supposed to go; there are a lot of booming drums and keening synth noises there too, and you can picture Dinger attempting to turn everything way up, alienating Rother in the process (if you’ve heard the limp, Fairlight-oriented albums Rother was pumping out, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Alas, the reunion didn’t work out, Blue got rejected by Virgin, and Dinger never really was the same after that. No label wanted to touch him at that point, and as such there’s little discussion about any of his later work. Granted, a lot of that is deserved, as much of it sounds like his heart just wasn’t in it anymore. There’s some La! Neu? records worth seeking out if you’re a fan (and the posthumous Japandorf album is pretty good), but Blue is the last record he did that really sounded like it wanted to change the world.