Even more so than Kraftwerk’s other albums, 1978′s The Man-Machine is both of its time and several years ahead. It’s not incidental that group leaders Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider here share their songwriting credits with their electronic percussionist Karl Bartos. Following the cutting-edge club success of 1977′s Trans-Europe Express, this successor released at disco’s peak features six tracks, all of them danceable. Here is where Kraftwerk’s lingering progressive rock consciousness completely vanishes, and where these electronic conceptualists consummate their transition into full-fledged dance band.
“Spacelab” and “Metropolis” acknowledge the smooth, synthesized Eurodisco that the Dusseldorf quartet helped pioneer but could not yet crack commercially: Donna Summer, her producer Giorgio Moroder, and others like France’s Cerrone and Space were at this point far more club-savvy. “The Robots” and the concluding title track downplay the European classicism of “Trans-Europe Express” while emphasizing its syncopation: That sinuous bassline at the forefront of “The Robot” is pure funk, and the synth line animating “The Man-Machine” would be replayed for one of hip-hop’s first electro hits in 1982, the Fearless Four’s “Rockin’ It.”
The remaining tracks bare the hallmarks of what would soon be synth-pop. “Neon Lights” provides a blueprint for nocturnal, distinctly urban, and typically melancholy beat ballads like Gary Numan’s 1979 UK chart-topper “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and Ultravox’s massively melodramatic 1981 single “Vienna.” “The Model” didn’t click beyond Germany when initially released, but its abundant glamour and Weimar Republic-evoking melody eventually made it a natural on London’s New Romantic scene. When reprised as the B-side for 1981′s “Computer Love” single, savvy UK DJs flipped it, and Kraftwerk’s record label rereleased it. Nearly four years after The Man-Machine‘s initial appearance, the jaunty tune became in England one of 1982′s biggest hits, and Kraftwerk’s sole No. 1 single.