When a group takes a hiatus from releasing music for as long as Kraftwerk did, I think its easy for listeners to shoot to one extreme or the other in terms of what they're expecting from the group in terms of new output. The pessimists of course think that there's absolutely no way that the group could possibly equal the greatness of their earlier work, while the optimists think that if the group took so much time off, then the music that they've put together in that time must be good (since they've had so much time to work on it).
Although Kraftwerk was never a holy-grail favorite artist of mine, I have to admit that I sort of cringed when I heard they were going to put out some new material. After hearing their theme for the Expo 2000, I wasn't too impressed, and I thought/wondered if the rest of the world had simply passed them by. In the time since Kraftwerk released their last album, electronic music in general has seemingly lapped itself every 5 years in terms of technologies and sounds. Having said all of the above, Tour De France Soundtracks isn't half bad. Instead of trying to update their overall sound for the new age and try to keep in step with the youngsters, it seems that Kraftwerk is simply doing what they did in the past with a slightly updated sound.
In other words, if it isn't broken then don't fix it. While the whole Kraftwerk sound might sound a bit cheesy to those who grew up on Autechre and the rest of the Warp Records (not to mention even crazier labels and artists), but I'll be darned if this isn't a fun little release. The majority of the release is based around their original "Tour De France" track, but the group breathes a bit of new life into it yet on the three-part track that leads off the release. The melodies are simple and the robotic vocals are still a bit silly, but the 15 minute trilogy flies right along with almost trancelike melodies and rhythm progressions.
To be sure, not all of the tracks on the release work well, and some of them simply feel a bit forced. The way overlong "Vitamin" starts out nicely enough with fluttering melodies and layered synthlines, but simply drags at nearly 8 minutes running length. The same thing could be said for both "Elektro Kardiogramm" and "La Forme," which both stretch simple melodies and not enough ideas into tracks that are just far too long. On the flipside, though, are tracks like "Aero Dynamik," which feels custom made for the dancefloor and proves the group still has some greatness left in them. All in all, the release probably would have worked better as an extended EP instead of nearly an hourlength rumination on one track and ideas that spawned from it, but this is Kraftwerk we're talking about here. While this release isn't groundbreaking, it's a nice throwback to electronic music in earlier days. With an upcoming tour, I don't think we've quite seen the last of them. Who knows? Maybe they still have a few tricks left up their robotic sleeves.