This one is well outside my normal wheelhouse. While my go-to is usually pop/rock with occasional forays into jazz or singer/songwriter types, I think this is my first time writing about an industrial band. For the most part, this style of music is too cacophonic for my tastes, but KMFDM‘s ability to parlay rhythm, melody, humor, and self-deprecation into a quasi-pop format sets them apart from the also-rans of the genre.
Money, released February 2, 1992, is KMFDM’s sixth album and it’s about what you’d expect from the band at this point – aggressive beats, shredded-metal guitar, robotic vocals, bass that you feel rather than hear culminating, of course, in an obliterating onslaught of sound and noise that drives all other thoughts from your head. The music is nearly hypnotic in its power and insistence.
Money yielded a couple singles: the excellent title track and “Vogue,” which, to my disappointment when I first bought the record, is not an industrial cover of Madonna’s dance classic. “Money” is a broad view of the corrupting power of wealth that manages to take a shot at public institutions on the way to making its point: “I went to school six years but I never graduated / My parents were poor, now I’m undereducated /
Like so many others all over the nation / ’cause the government’s saving on Public Education…” Both singles are represented twice on the album in both their original versions and as remixes later on in the tracklist.
They get their jabs in at religion, the church, patriotism, and capitalism throughout the course of the new songs’ 39-minute running time (the rest of the album is fleshed out with remakes and remixes), but this band is less about the lyrics and the message than it is about the sound and the fury. Though the first two tracks were leveraged as the album’s singles, it’s the third and fourth songs on the album that most stand apart from the industrial-by-numbers rote delivery that sometimes afflicts this genre.
“Help Us/Save Us/Take Us Away” is actually more midtempo, softened somewhat by the female lead vocal delivered by Dorona Alberti in place of Sascha Konietzko‘s far more menacing growl (which is still employed here as counterpoint). This is more radio-friendly fare, industrial-lite perhaps, with a synth & guitar bridge that seems downright chipper. Though the second half of the decade would see bands like Nine Inch Nails bridge the gap between underground and mainstream it was vanguards like KMFDM that laid the early groundwork.
“Help Us…” is followed up by the album’s centerpiece, the seven-plus-minute “Bargeld,” a massive slab of machine-honed electronic funk. The lyrics to this song are all delivered in German (the rest of the album is in English), so even though I ran them through an online translator, they really serve as just another instrument in the song. This track doesn’t let up – it’s a bull charging the length of the china shop, a wrecking ball on steroids. While there are moments I’m tempted to describe the sounds as Nitzer Ebb meets Electronic, the sound has more clarity of purpose and serves as a propulsive dance anthem full of rage and white heat.
There is very little new or surprising about Money; it is only the fact that KMFDM do this sort of thing so well that recommends it. If that sounds like faint praise, it’s not – it’s just that this band was so consistently excellent that it’s hardly worth remarking when they put forth another top-notch product. KMFDM were at the top of the game before anyone else was playing; they helped invent the game.
Although they’re still making records (their latest dropped last year), I’ll admit that I haven’t kept up with this band the way I have with some others. There’s no reason for this except that, particularly as we get older, there are fewer and fewer hours to devote to new music. That said, there’s always time for old music, so it’s fun to go back and listen to this, to remember hearing it for the first time, to enjoy the KMFDM of the mid-nineties and recall what I was doing at the time. And revisiting an album like this one, too, is a good reminder to myself that it can be worthwhile to break away from my normal listening patterns every now and then.