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Tangerine Dream - Tyranny Of Beauty CD (album) cover


Tangerine Dream


Progressive Electronic

2.80 | 67 ratings

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1 stars

Probably the worst of all Tangerine Dream albums, and one of the worst things that I've ever heard - the mid-'90s were a real dark age for Tangerine Dream, and Tyranny of Beauty is its nadir. The band certainly needed to move on from the dull muzak of the Private Music albums and Rockoon, but while this new period brought back a measure of the ambition that had deserted the band with Christopher Franke, that ambition was now applied in the most perverse of ways.

In their golden years, Tangerine Dream explored the furthest reaches of synthesized sound; at the close of the '80s, they contented themselves with cheap, generic keyboard tones; here (and, to a lesser degree, on the preceding Turn of the Tides), the focus has switched completely to guitars, all but burying what rudiments of electronics remain. This is hardly a problem in itself - Edgar Froese's icy, airy solos had been highlights on some of the band's best works - but the greasy, histrionic playing here abandons all taste and class, spewing out endless solos as indulgent as Frank Zappa's and as showy as David Gilmour's without the sense of either.

The album opens with "Catwalk", its lone highlight and incidentally one of the least guitar-oriented of its songs. It's trivial stuff and painfully outdated, built on a turn-of-the-decade house beat even as it flagrantly samples the leading-edge sounds of Underworld's dubnobasswithmyheadman, but it does boast a decent amount of energy, a comparatively light mix, and a genuinely impressive acoustic guitar solo in the middle. Unfortunately, things take an immediate nosedive afterward; the next piece, "Birdwatcher's Dream" combines sappy chord changes with The Wall-wannabe arpeggios and features an ugly, '80s "snap" sound in its climax, and it's only the start of the truly rotten material on here. "Little Blonde in the Park of Attractions" is one of the worst tracks on the disk, with the loudest, shreddiest guitar work and cheesily "dark" drumbeats near the end, and "Living in a Fountain Pen" (God, these titles) is a fitting neighbor, with a schlocky, "folk-style" acoustic section and toothlessly "tough" distorted power chords elsewhere. But the most offensive moment is easily "Stratosfear 1995" - an absolute travesty that takes a Tangerine Dream classic and smothers it under a leaden "rocking" beat, blaring hair-metal guitars, and lazy new beep-boop synthesizer tones, with the original song still audible, crushed and helpless, beneath it all!

After that, things start to calm down, and the album blends together in my mind as a haze of lower-key ramblings against more ignorable backdrops, although the early-'90s "dance" piano line and bongo drums in "Bride in Cold Tears" linger unpleasantly in my memory. Eventually, it ends with a slow Handel piece, featureless and spiritless in this rendition (the "string" pads seem to have been deliberately set to sound as cheap and unconvincing as possible, though the clarinet is nice), but a pleasant enough way to wind things down. I can't decide whether to praise it more for its composition or damn it more for its performance, but it's the first enjoyable thing here since "Catwalk", for what precious little that that's worth. Finally, some releases of the album add a contemporary B-side called "Quasar" as a bonus track - I looked it up on YouTube, and it's a perfectly generic techno thumper, which inherently makes it better than almost everything on the album proper.

Speaking for both Tyranny of Beauty and Turn of the Tides - I don't plan on sitting down to review more than one of these stinkers, and this one was the more satisfying target - I can see why these albums got made; after the lightweight facelessness of stuff like Optical Race and Melrose, Froese was probably itching to get back into more substantial territory. But why in this way? Electronic music was the biggest that it had ever been in the mid-'90s, and not just club music, but ambitious stuff in the spirit of what Tangerine Dream had built their name on - when even a "dance" band like The Orb could get away with recording something as sprawling and atmospheric as Orbus Terrarum, the time for a Tangerine Dream comeback was clearly ripe. Even the band themselves must have understood this, as the Underworld samples here prove that they were keeping up with contemporary electronic developments. But, incredibly, they threw that opportunity away, and this sorry music is the consequence.

Stalvern | 1/5 |


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