On Kraftwerk's first studio release in a dozen years, the band expands on the theme of its 1983 single “Tour de France,” which immortalized the event with a rhythm built out of heavy breathing and vocodered vocals that referenced the main points along the race. Tour de France Soundtracks takes a look at various elements that go into a cyclist's effort, from muscle preparation (“La Forme”) to the essential nutrients one might ingest (the daft “Vitamin”). The trouble with this album is that, although it's pleasant, most of it sounds like it was recorded at the time of the original single. It doesn't break any new ground for a group regarded as an innovator in electronic music. Perhaps it's unfair to have such high expectations, but that's a testament to Kraftwerk's reputation as the godfather of modern electronic music — a reputation that's not helped out tremendously here.
Somewhat pitifully, “Tour de France” appears in four versions, ranging from an ambient mix to a rousing and disconcerting sports arenasize take, complete with new lyrics (in French and perhaps even less enlightening than the original's “Flat tire on the paving stone/ The bicycle is repaired quickly”). Sadly, these variations feel like a ploy more than anything else, since the new mixes don't enrich the original in any way.
The album improves markedly in its second half. The undeniable rump-shaker of the set, “Aéro Dynamik,” finds Kraftwerk working with a quickened pace and a metallic breakbeat — maybe a first? — which anchors warm, minor-key melodies; this takes a cue from, and fits credibly alongside, the work of more contemporary laptop-techno producers such as Montreal's Akufen. Later, “Electro Kardiogramm” mimics a heartbeat in its rhythm and maintains an unwavering groove. Both songs have a soulful side that isn't often found in the machines used to make them.
While casual electronica aficionados may find this release, at its best, merely innocuous, hard-core fans familiar with Kraftwerk's place in history will be disappointed that the band didn't prepare better for this race.