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V/A - The In-Kraut

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Artist: V/A

Album: The In-Kraut

Label: Marina

Review date: Jan. 17, 2006

While I promise not to drop pseudo-intellectual words like "recontextualization" herein, what's most interesting about this album is the question of whether these songs are now cool or cheesy. Or both, if they're not, in fact, mutually exclusive conditions. Collecting 20 of Germany's hippest songs from 1966-74, the mixture of swing, psych and beat is surely entertaining one way or the other, but the quality varies drastically.

Guenter Noris' "Gemini," for example, is pretty enjoyable even though it reeks of its era with a piano-driven, synth-drenched feel, while "Marihuana Mantra" from Kuno & The Marihuana Brass perhaps speaks for itself. On the other hand, a bass groove and funky keys like those offered by "Why Don't You Play The Organ" (Memphis Black) never lose their appeal.

Many of these songs can't help but cause flashbacks to cheesy, hippified scenes from early-'70s movies, with young folks dancing beneath light shows to show that the movie's down with youth culture. Others, though, such as "Wie A Glockn" by Marianne Mendt, are resolutely based in unapologetic pop.

Perhaps the best songs here are the instrumental jams like "Moving Out" (Orchester Helmuth Brandenburg), "Beat It" (Freddy Brock), and the closing "Undergroovin'" by Eugen Thomass. The funk and soul-inspired bass lines, riffing guitars and terrific horns are still fresh today.

But then there's the Peter Thomas Soul Orchestra's version of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," which is nothing but pure kitsch. Amusing, but even from the vantage point of decades hence, that's about all one can say about it. Likewise, "Bodybuilding" by Orchester Werner Muller is just plain silly, and Bill Lawrence's "Pussy Baby" is worth a chuckle but its wimpy wah guitar does nothing to lift it above joke status.

The cynic in me says that this collection is basking in the largesse of today's irony-laden environment, but it's true enough that a good half of the songs here are pretty legitimately cool. The other half are vaguely enjoyable, but some are, in truth, only good for a laugh.

On the upside, the CD's booklet has excellent liner notes with pictures and details about every artist and track. Compilers Stefan Kassel and Frank Jastfelder did a very good job pulling it all together, despite any misgivings I may have about some of the inclusions.

By Mason Jones

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