One of the more garish, cheap album covers I’ve seen. I wonder what the cover on the original vinyl was like, this looks photoshoppy. Anyway, awesome record. -Ian!
The title “Wunderbar” certainly describes this obscure relic of electronic Krautrock, the first and (tragically) last album by multi- instrumentalist Wolfgang Riechmann, a gifted musician whose life was cut short before his solo career had even begun. Previously Riechmann had played keyboards and guitar in the mainstream German Prog band STREETMARK, but nothing in the more conventional sound of that ensemble compares to the uncluttered maturity of his own album.
It was released the same year as KRAFTWERK’s “Die Mensch Maschine” (1978), and you can draw more than one parallel line between the two albums. Both grew out of the fertile musical landscape of Düsseldorf in the mid-1970s; both draw from a similar well of modern electronic music; and the cover art of each shares the same striking affection for colorful lipstick and makeup, in Riechmann’s case favoring a ghostly metallic blue over the bold scarlet design of Kraftwerk’s Man Machine image.
But the similarities end there. Riechmann’s own music is far less robotic than his Kling Klang compatriots, and that welcome human touch (call it Kraftwerk with heart) is what makes it special. The upbeat title track in particular shows a much warmer side to the otherwise antiseptic style of synthetic pop music then coming into vogue, with a simple, catchy rhythm supporting a melody sounding not unlike a Bavarian folk tune updated to the electronic age. The creative layering of atmospheric synths and gently treated guitar give the music an unexpected richness, but with enough repetition to qualify it as a Krautrock classic.
Another highlight is “Himmelblau” (Sky Blue), at 8+ minutes the longest track on the album, featuring waves of pastel synth strings washing over another toe-tapping motorik beat, with Riechmann’s singing (a series of cheerful, childlike “la la las”) recalling NEU’s resident proto punk Klaus Dinger on a diet of happy pills. Contrast that to the album closer, “Traumzeit” (Dreamtime), a brief cinematic coda built on little more than a single throbbing bass note reverberating into the void.
The album could have been the start of something big, but just before it was released Riechmann was stabbed to death in a Düsseldorf bar fight, a senseless waste of his young life and a crime that deprived us of a promising talent. Thirty years later I can’t, in all fairness, award his final creative effort more than three respectable stars, a reflection of the album’s too modest length (only 33 minutes) and sadly unfulfilled potential. But the music itself is no less fresh than it was in 1978, and deserves to be remembered fondly regardless of the tragic circumstances surrounding it.
Wolfgang Reichmann-WUNDERBAR (1978)