Written by: Dave Cantrell
OK, there are all these claims and promises on the (ex)pertly written promo sheet that came with this surprise latest – first in fifteen years – from Germany’s representative to the Franz-Heads-Devo alliance Robocop Krause (the ‘The’ now wisely dropped) so we’re just going to hit the play button on this thing and see if…no, wait. First a bit of history and a slight if unsurprising confession.
Formed in a small picturesque town in Middle Franconia, Bavaria called Hersbruck a full quarter-century ago, the now 6-piece (♣), in its initial decade, released five and a half full-lengths – their debut, oddly enough, was a split LP with The Cherryville – and played north of 800 shows all over everywhere, never flagging in their quest to enter the post-punkish new-wavey pantheon on their own terms and succeeding by pretty much every metric if we exclude achieving great or even modest renown in the US despite singing in perfect accent-free English, itself almost a tradition for German artists no matter the chosen genre, an unfortunate state of affairs that can only reflect badly on this country’s hegemonic provinciality but that’s for a different essay save for the fact that it points us toward the confession mentioned up yonder: this is the first I’ve heard, or heard of, them so far as I recall. That’s a shame of course but also not, seeing as it not only means I’ve got some fun catching up to do but as well, and perhaps more usefully, I get to hear Smile (released April 14th on Tapete) with fresh ears and those ears, if I may use some American street lingo here, are hearing some bangin’ shit, a conclusion sustained no matter actual tempo or mood.
Bursting forth with pure rollick in the form of “Young Man” that sports something of a space-age dancey vibe even as it’s rooted in the fundaments of the form and would not have sounded out of place in 1977 or for that matter the first few lively years of the 21st C., we proceed through the relentless and irresistible “Innocent Fun,” the many-dimensioned “On Repeat” that merits its choice as the album’s first single by virtue of taking that full-on guitar and synth-rhythmic drive of Magazine and applying it to more of a straightforward pop dynamic and then things get really interesting. “Giant of Love” is the adopted orphan from Remain in Light that kicks idiosyncrasy to the curb but keeps the dance quotient fully intact and gets straight to the point of being a love song adapted to the ever-shifting herky-jerk of our times. In most instances that would nominate itself as an album highlight but on Smile the hustle of competition forces it to share the podium.
“World/Inferno,” named after and dedicated to the NYC ensemble World/Inferno Friendship Society with whom RK toured and whose singer passed last year, beams with a supple, uptempo radiance tinged with an understandable melancholy and respect and proves, as well as any cut you’d hope to hear, that being simultaneously moved and being made to physically move are not mutually exclusive but in fact make a powerful pair. Further on, “Savages” sets the first ever bar for what me might call “rock-and-Rousseau” and, nobly, sets it quite high at that, “All the Ideas” suggests Young Marble Giants had they taken their quietly intelligent pop and sidled into dreamwave that, by the way, just happens to include a gentle wah-wah guitar bit to die for while “The Boy’s No Good,” even with the cheeky inclusion of “el chico es no bueno” sneaked into the lyrics for a, well, smile, has classic written all over it what with its chimey guitar and an arrangement draped in bitter beauty and, oh yeah, “Cannonball,” a track that takes the term ‘mid-tempo’ and turns it into something so dreamy and compelling you might consider staying there forever.
Slot a fair parcel of churners and dead-on rockers into the mix including “Cradle of Filth” that finds our hardy Robokoppers sharing a train with, umm, Cradle of Filth on the way to St. Petersburg just after the Suffolk metalheads had withstood a fascist shellacking that’s essentially power pop meets metal with a side of stirring empathy and smash-and-grab Punk Rock 101, closer “The Foul Stench of Our Time” that in its brief minute-and-a-half had me reaching for those SLF and Ruts singles that I sadly no longer own and you’ve got one of the most solid, rousing ‘comeback’ albums in memory, one of the very few that not only doesn’t stain that very concept but ennobles it, to which what can we say but ‘Bravo, lads, bravo!!’
♣ – to give the six their due:
Thomas Lang – vocals
Matthias Wendl – guitar
Marcus Steckert – organ
Tobias Helmlinger – bass
Hans-Christian Fuss – drums/guitar
Hohannes Uschalt – drums/guitar[Get your Smile on in all the formats here]