ALBUM REVIEW: Who’s That Man? (Conny Plank Tribute Box Set)

6 Feb

conny plank

‘Kraut rock’ isn’t the most commonly known music movement in the world – if you’ve heard of it, good for you, I guess – just as Conny Plank isn’t the most commonly known producer (I referred to him previously as an unsung hero, I think that’s a succinct enough way of putting it).

But just go to his Wikipedia page and the list of artist he’s influenced is almost endless – and where I’m going with this is that Conny Plank is someone you’ve never heard of, who helped shape a genre you’ve never heard of, which is responsible for most of the electronic music that you’ve not only heard of, but probably love.

Are you following me? No?

I don’t want to make this into a history lesson but in order to appreciate the aptly named ‘Who’s That Man?’ Conny Plank boxset, a little context is needed. Plank was a sound engineer and producer in Germany in the ‘60s, and one of the most creative. Focusing mostly on electronic music, Plank worked with pioneers of the genre, most notably Kraftwerk – as well as Devo, Eurythmics and Brain Eno.

His production work skills are obviously most evident on the first two CDs, which are a compilation of tracks which Plank worked on, although Kraftwerk are a sad omission. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to enjoy. As someone who had a vague interest in electronica, I never really thought much about the earlier work in that genre and as far as kraut rock goes, Kraftwerk were probably in my peripheral vision.

The ‘Who’s That Man?’ boxset is a perfect place to start discovering a love for electronica, European or otherwise. The live production sound that Plank was known for is especially vibrant on these tracks, as well as the swirling electronics. It’s rough to the point of being harsh at times, but less than dark than some associate with the genre, and Plank has a knack for giving each component of the tracks a certain edge which lifts it out and avoids the compressed sound that so many bands were using at the time. A particular highlight is Streetmark’s ‘Eleanor Rigby’ cover on CD2 – proving exactly why Beatles covers can actually (rarely) be a good thing.

The set also shows the wide range even across the genre – from the aforementioned bright energy of ‘Eleanor Rigby’, there’s the darker tracks from The Psychotic Tanks, or a soundscape of ambience from Rodelius.

CD4 is definitely not to be missed – the CD features the last taped performance of Plank before his untimely death in ’87. It documents his 1986 tour of South America with Dieter Möbius and Arno Steffen as Trioformation.

The remixes CD (CD3) is probably the weakest of the set, but still an enjoyable listen – it just lacks the same arresting quality that the rest of the tracks achieve so effortlessly.

One last Plank fact for you – Brian Eno wanted Plank to produce the U2 album The Joshua Tree instead of him, and introduced him to the band. After the meeting, Plank turned the job down. His reason? “I cannot work with this singer.” If that doesn’t make you like him, nothing will.

‘Who’s That Man?’ (Conny Plank Tribute Box Set) is released on 11 February.

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