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Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express [Aka: Trans-Europa Express] CD (album) cover

TRANS-EUROPE EXPRESS [AKA: TRANS-EUROPA EXPRESS]

Kraftwerk

 

Progressive Electronic

3.94 | 318 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Schubert catches a train

The commercial success of "Autobahn" and "Radio activity" was the catalyst for a fundamental change in the artistic focus of Kraftwerk. The band enjoyed the limelight they found themselves in and moved to make further inroads into the pop charts. Gone therefore were any remaining vestiges of pure Krautrock, to be replaced by strong rhythmic electronic beats, and synth sounds which were pleasing on the ear and radio friendly. The band retained a cold and aloof image to complement the mechanical nature of their preferred sound, but this was all part of the hype.

When "Radio activity" failed to enjoy the same level of success as "Autobahn", a major investment was made in upgrading the band's studios and a conscious effort was made to spend the required time on composing melodies which an audience could latch onto and remember. So was born "Trans-Europe express", an album which unashamedly borrows on the long distance travel concept of Autobahn, while delivering shorter, more accessible tracks.

The opening "Europe Endless" (originally intended as the album's title too), features slightly more melodic singing than on previous albums, but more noticeably a synth melody which is captivating to the extent of almost being whistleable. The singing though becomes even more relevant on the following "The hall of mirrors" which mixes spoken word with Anglicised vocals of the type which featured on songs by band bands such as Visage and Tubeway Army (Gary Numan). The underlying synth beats are of the type favoured by Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre, the minimalism being disguised by occasional synth soloing.

The third of the three tracks which constitute a lengthy first side is "Showroom dummies", a song which along with "Europe endless" was released as a single. (The releasing of two singles confirms both the band's desire for singles success, and the radically more commercial nature of the product.) The track, which was written to reflect a critical comment about the band's on stage appearance, is a sort of dance version of "Radio activity".

The second side of the album takes three separate compositions and and merges them into a mini-suite. The title track forms the first part of the suite, the concept being based around a long distance train journey. That concept is largely portrayed through rhythmic themes and sounds, not lyrical description. Fanfare like polyphonic synths (still a novelty at the time) are interspersed with persistent repetition of the album title. It may all sound a bit laboured and indeed dated today, but at the time of its release this was pioneering stuff. "Metal on Metal" does indeed begin with the sound of saucepans being hit with metal spoons before soldiering on with the main theme of the suite. The train finally stops at the end of this section, the third main section being dedicated to the composer "Franz Schubert" (who presumably once travelled on a long distance train but never thought to compose a symphony about it!). This part is more Tangerine Dream like than anything the band had created up to this point, the floating synths and soft wandering rhythm combining to form something ambient but pleasant. The album closes with a brief, fading continuation of "Franz Schubert" cunningly entitled "Endless Endless".

"Trans Europe express" represents a major shift in the focus of Kraftwerk. Purists will scream "sell out" and to some extent they are right. This is though a natural development for the band, and was by far their most accomplished album up to that point. More importantly, it is also a very enjoyable album.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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