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Reissue Of The Week

Reissue Of The Week: Faust's 1971 – 1974 Box Set Reviewed
Jeremy Allen , October 15th, 2021 13:03

1971 – 1974 is the definitive statement of Faust, the least krautrock of all the krautrock bands, containing, as it does, the long mythologised missing album. But, asks Jeremy Allen, was it worth the wait?

Of all the kosmische bands, Faust were the least “Krautrock” with a capital K. In Faust’s three-year imperial phase, there’s none of the perceived teutonic efficiency or arch awareness of Kraftwerk; little of the benign new age leanings of Tangerine Dream and Cluster and, while they shared rhythmic characteristics with motorik pioneers Can and Neu!, Faust always had a Dadaist impulse to disrupt anything that might be running too smoothly, as much inveterate self-saboteurs as sonic innovators.

Faust were always the strangest of the strange, the outliers, the black sheep, completely unclassifiable, a genre all of their own. Such singularity and capriciousness made them a nightmare to market, so in hindsight, it made perfect sense for Virgin to issue The Faust Tapes at 48p in the hope curious connoisseurs of the label might get on board. And they did too, in their droves, though the 60,000 albums sold didn’t chart as the BMRB took a dim view of such loss-leading gimmickry. Virgin’s main mistake was to believe that they could tame Faust by the time they came to deliver the next LP.

The story of Faust’s defining era – living in their converted schoolhouse at Wümme, where they recorded two mind-bending albums for Polydor, and then moving to The Manor in Oxfordshire, where they put out two further head-twisting albums for Virgin – has always been an incomplete picture. The fighting and fracas are all a part of the rich soap opera of Faust, though perhaps their greatest story is the album that got away. The mythical Faust 5½ – now called Punkt – is here and complete within Bureau B’s illustrious new box set 1971 - 1974 for the first time, as nature – or Hans-Joachim Irmler with both hands and feet on the faders back in 1974 – intended. 47 years hidden away has not diminished its power.

The fabled fifth album, recorded in Munich, is steeped in myth and legend, though the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Faust had broken up after a bust up at the Manor in 1973, when the band’s manager Uwe Nettlebeck had gone behind everybody’s backs and submitted the tracklisting for Faust IV to Richard Branson. Irmler and guitarist Rudolf Sosna returned to Germany, furious with Nettlebeck’s meddling, and Nettlebeck exited stage left soon after. Eventually, all five members returned home, and Irmler started to get the urge to record one last album with his frenemies. He contacted Giorgio Moroder, who wasn’t yet the éminence grise of Eurodisco, though Moroder had started working with Donna Summer and indirectly written a no.1 hit record for Chicory Tip. The Italian producer gave Faust the downtime at Musicland Studios during the hours Summer wasn’t recording.

Faust came together for one last time with their sound engineer Kurt Graupner, decamping first to a farm outside Munich for a few days to run through ideas, then heading to the Arabella High Rise Building – one of the city’s most luxurious hotels – with Musicland in the basement. For ten days they ran up huge bills, raiding the minibars and ordered steaks on room service for their dogs. Working under the assumption that Branson owed them a third album, they spent each night clattering away down below, though the supposed largesse of the label was a delusion, and the money never materialised. Branson, tired of the antisocial behaviour of his charges, had cut his losses.

Staff at the Arabella became suspicious and asked Faust to settle up, and when it became apparent Virgin weren’t footing the bill, Peron instructed their teenage roadie to drive through the car park barrier of the hotel and make off with the tapes, which he duly did. Peron, Irmler and Sosna then went to the reception with their dogs and gave themselves up. The three men were thrown in jail and eventually bailed out by Irmler’s and Sosna’s mothers. That classic iteration of Faust was no more.

The magnetic tape of their sonic escapades ended up in a damp cardboard box in a garage or lock-up in either Lower-Saxony or Schleswig-Holstein, according to their synth / sax player, Gunther Wüsthoff. For whatever reason, bits and pieces made it out of the box and were added to compilations, put together by Henry Cow’s Chris Cutler (71 Minutes of…; BBC Sessions +) who, along with Julian Cope, helped keep Faust’s pulse faintly ticking through the fallow years. A few years ago, a purported version of Faust 5½ appeared on the internet, full of radio static and musique concrète experiments, though little of it correlates with Punkt, save for the opening track, and some vaguely recognisable passages which have been mixed so differently that they bare little resemblance at all now.

For the record, Punkt is pronounced “poonkt”, and it means “full stop” in German. As a trilingual band, it works well in English, with the implication being that these malignant hippies were in fact proto-punks in disguise. Punkt was the idea of label supremo Gunther Buskies at Bureau B, which makes more sense than ; Irmler called it that to signify a coming together of all the albums that preceded it: Faust known colloquially as clear, and the abstract and mercurial Faust Tapes go hand in hand, as do the more song driven So Far and Faust IV. How that all adds up to 5½ remains a mystery to just about everyone outside of Irmler’s brain.

A full stop on the other hand suggests that this is where Faust truly ends. Whether that end is now because the lost record is finally here, or whether it means all the extraneous records since 1994’s Rien are pale imitations, is a moot point. It may well mean both. Even the most ardent fans and the members of the band themselves must believe deep down that the five-fingered fist: Peron, Irmler, Wüsthoff, Sosna and Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, is Faust distilled to its essential elements, and anything else is superfluous, irrespective of its merits.

What constitutes a Faust record has become a very subjective and occasionally controversial question over the years. Arnulf Meifert, percussionist alongside Zappi on the first record, believes it was only truly Faust when it was all six of them, before he was unceremoniously ejected not long after the eponymous debut record was completed. Though he has also argued that the true essence of Faust is the inimitable sound of Jochen Irmler’s homemade keyboard, which he still uses fifty years on; in which case, collaborations Irmler has made with Gudrun Gut or F.M. Einheit have at least some Faust in them.

After Irmler and Peron had their falling out in 2004, both made separate records under the Faust name, and while many have asked, “Which is the true Faust?”, there’s an argument to be had that if Zappi Diermaier is playing drums on it – given that he has somehow played on every record to date – then that is Faust (he has now left Peron’s Faust, but has been working with Wüsthoff, hinting that there may in fact be more to come). And then there’s the engineer, Kurt Graupner, so essential to the sound of the first incarnation, the architect of the “black boxes” which enabled the band to mix each other in real time, and a dab hand at splicing tape. He’s as essential to them as George Martin was to the Beatles, so perhaps it’s only Faust when Graupner is on board.

Whatever the answer, Punkt’s credentials are incontrovertible, with everyone but Meifert and Nettlebeck involved. The first album was recorded in Wümme over more than a year – the a-side intricately stitched together like a tapestry by Graupner, while the flipside was jammed in a night under the influence of some good acid after Polydor decided to call in their investment; So Far was recorded in Wümme with more of a focus towards songs (and what songs they are); The Faust Tapes is a library compilation of avant-garde experiments from the archive, for the reasons we’ve already stated, and Faust IV was mostly recorded in the cauldron of Oxfordshire, where they were guests rather than residents, sharing a recording studio with Mike Oldfield, who was making Tubular Bells in the downtime. In that sense, the Munich album is the sound of a band unleashed. They may have only had ten days to do it, but that freedom without Branson or Nettlebeck breathing down their necks, makes for a gloriously unhinged though oddly cohesive listen.

Here we have the genuine article then, which begs the question, has it been worth the 47 year wait? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes. Punkt, Faust’s most muscular record, is often driven by Diermaier’s propulsive beats, dressed up with extemporisation and overridden with swathes of distortion. Opener ‘Morning Land’, exemplifies this philosophy best, a more technicolor and widescreen version of 71 Minutes of’s ‘Munic A’. It’s heavy, mechanised almost, a groove with an undercurrent of drone that has trance-like properties. ‘Prends Ton Temps’, at the end of the record, similarly swarms with impudent menace, before cutting out abruptly.

‘Knochentanz’, or bone dance, is carried along by the open and shut of a hi-hat which becomes more percussive as the track unfurls, with rasping trumpets drenched in heavy reverb, taking us on a carnivalesque odyssey that seems to get madder as each of its 12 minutes passes. ‘Juggernaut’ precedes the British Punk explosion by a couple of years, built on a thuggish guitar riff that even anticipates American hardcore a few years later. The narratives concerning punk have been restrictively defined over the years, though the truth is far more porous, as ‘Juggernaut’ proves.

That song makes way for ‘Schön Rund’, a pretty ditty played on the piano, presumably, by Rudolf Sosna, the half-Russian romantic who tragically drank himself to death in 1996. Rudolf brought melancholia to Faust, and many of their best loved songs: ‘Jennifer’, ‘Flashback Caruso’, ‘It's a Rainy Day Sunshine Girl’, ‘The Sad Skinhead’... emerging between the tomfoolery, sad chansons that could break your heart. Perhaps, if Punkt is light on anything, it’s these soulful moments of sublimity.

With this box set though, it feels like you’re never short of anything, and that hours of discovery await. As well as the first four albums and Punkt, there are two singles in the box, one with ‘Lieber Herr Deutschland’ on one side, which Deutsche Grammophon signing Faust on the strength of, and ‘Baby’ on the flipside, which the label rejected; given the story that Polydor were apparently oblivious to the musical high jinks the band were up to in Wümme, it may surprise people to learn the rejected ‘Baby’ is closer to the Anglophonic beat combos of the day, while the rubber-stamped ‘Lieber Herr Deutschland’ is an odd sound collage of disembodied spoken word, free jazz, noise and wafts of avant-rock. Additionally, ‘So Far’ and ‘It’s a Bit Of A Pain’ with mixes different to those on the albums, make up the other 7 inch.

Then there’s an abundance of unreleased music, mostly recorded in Wümme, stretched across two albums called Momentaufnahme, or snapshot. If the eclecticism of The Faust Tapes is your bag, then here is essentially Tapes two and three, full of infernal jams, freaktronica, tempestuous beats and swoonsome classical guitar licks. Listen to the thundering breakbeat and white noise of ‘Vorsatz’ on side two of Momentaufnahme I, or the Velvets-like psychedelic wig out of ‘Rückwärts Durch Die Drehtür’ at the end of that same album, and wonder at how they could have so easily discarded these tracks with such potential. But then none of it feels superfluous; all of it needs to be explored and reexamined, either right now or at a later date. And the same too could be said for Punkt, which, delivered half a century late, only adds to the Faustian mythos.