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[page in the process of being converted from MP3 status to full status]

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Main Category: Electronica
Also applicable: Mood Music
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Tangerine Dream fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Tangerine Dream fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Proper introduction will follow (in a couple of aeons or so), but I'd just like to point out that this whole mp3 business is heavenly. Do you know how many albums Tangerine Dream have put out so far? SEVENTY-ONE. That's right. 71 fucking albums. And you know what? I HAVE EVERY SINGLE ONE OF 'EM IN HIGH QUALITY MP3. And you know what else? I AM PLANNING ON REVIEWING EVERY ONE OF THE GODDAMN STINKIN' SMELLY WANKIN' TANGERINE DREAM ALBUMS. Even though they all suck.

Okay, scrap that last line. I haven't yet heard even a tenth part of that. And even if it is true, and they all suck, I'm still gonna pretend that some of them don't. What am I, an asshole? To review seventy-one albums all of which suck? I guess I know now why Edgar Froese looks like a cross between a failed biker and a retired Gestapo officer.



Year Of Release: 1970

This humble debut, recorded during a frivolous jam session somewhere in mid-1969, is actually just the humble beginning for the band, and no great shakes at all. Actually, for what band? Out of the three main members, only Edgar Froese remained to proudly carry on the Tangerine Dream moniker right after this album. Let's just assume, once and for all, that Tangerine Dream is Edgar Froese, kinda like Jethro Tull is Ian Anderson, and forget about the rest.

Or maybe not. After all, this is Tangerine Dream's one and only album with the one and only Klaus Schulze, the infamous avantgarde drummer and composer, and if only for that, Electronic Meditation has some historical importance. The third important member is Conrad Schnitzler, another whacked avantgarde dude with an ideal in Mr Stockhausen (remember, Karlheinz was the main musical guru for most Krautrock bands). And what these fellows do is pretty simple - they get together inside a recording studio and record a lot of avantgarde music.

What's so special about that? Nothing. Billions of wild-eyed German guys were doing the same at the time. The problem was to carve out an identity and a style, and Electronic Meditation, suitable as the title is in this particular case, has pretty little identity. Avantgarde presupposes a disrespect for rhythm, so there's next to no rhythm - comparisons with Can or Amon Düül II are out of the question (also, since there are so few people, the sound is very thin, lacking the multiple careful overdubs and careful arranging of Amon Düül II's contemporary projects). On the other hand, the essence of the album is far more "musical" than the debut records of Kraftwerk and even Faust - but this is an essence that drifts towards static, proto-ambient textures. So perhaps we should be seeking out the key here: this is one of the earliest records to delve in 'ambient' landscapes.

Unfortunately, this delving is pretty rotten. There's way too much dissonance and unrestricted experimentalism on here: "ambient" is supposed to set an atmosphere, but on this album, the guys don't have enough patience to set a long-lasting atmosphere. This is understandable - huge chunks of the album had been recorded live, after all. But if you're "jamming", don't call the album a 'meditation'! Much of this stuff has hopelessly dated beyond repair. The two lengthy 'astral' jams, 'Journey Through A Burning Brain' and 'Cold Smoke', don't present me with any particularly new ideas I haven't heard on an early Pink Floyd record, but somehow seem that they have enough potential to go on for about ten minutes each.

The musicianship is far from spectacular as well; the saving grace of the lengthy tracks are Froese's guitar solos. At certain points, usually near the end of the tracks, Edgar crashes in with a furious guitar blast or two that shows how prolific his skills are. Even at this early stage, Herr Froese was already perhaps the most inventive guitar player on the whole Krautrock scene - not as technically perfect as Michael Karoli, perhaps, but his guitar speaks to me like nothing else; he really makes it speak, as if it were a living astral body. Unfortunately, he really only lets rip in a few places.

Shorter songs on here include 'Genesis', a mostly synth-dominated chaotic number that is the closest this band ever came to emulating both Kraftwerk and Faust; 'Ashes To Ashes', a definite highlight - essentially, it's just a blues-based short jam with more of those ear-shredding guitar solos and a moody, superbly fluent organ part; and the closing piece of balderdash that is 'Resurrection', a pseudo-solemn organ-based sonic landscape with an 'ominous' gothic atmosphere around it that's essentially just boring. Mayhaps, the whole album, which begins with 'Genesis' and ends with 'Resurrection', is trying to emulate the Bible or something, but apart from the track titles, there's nothing else to verify that idea, and frankly speaking, I'm not really interested. The album does not flow together well as a monolithic atmospheric masterpiece, like something by Brian Eno or Philip Glass.

Well, on the other hand, what do you want with three ambitious German art students having a bit of jammin' fun in a recording studio? Nothing. I'm even surprised they actually decided to release this stuff - of course, in such a year as 1970 they could probably have gotten away with something even worse (say, Kraftwerk's second album, or the one and only album by Kraftwerk's early incarnation, Organisation), but that doesn't mean that this stuff is able to hold up in retrospect. Two stars, only because I adore Edgar Froese's guitarwork so much.



Year Of Release: 1971

This is more like it! But before I proceed, I'd like to use an appropriate occasion and dedicate this review to the glory of Mr Dennis Tito, now cruising together with his new-found Russian mates as the first ever Space Tourist to have journeyed on board a cosmic station with no purpose other than a wish to challenge the law of gravity. Good luck, Mr Tito, and let us hope the twenty million bucks you paid for the event went into the right hands. (Wink, wink).

Where was I? Oh yes, I was saying that the second Tangerine Dream album is a huge improvement over the first one. At least in one objective way: as far as I know, it is the first ever electronic album to be fully dedicated to the atmosphere of astral travelling. We may reasonably argue that Pink Floyd did this stuff earlier, and we may even not unreasonably argue that Pink Floyd did this stuff better, but Pink Floyd certainly did not have the gall to dedicate an entire forty-minutes to one grand Cosmic Suite. Especially a forty-minute Cosmic Suite that set up some rules for all, or most, of the subsequent ambient compositions.

Anyway, here's the lowdown to you: after the departure of Schulze and Schnitzel, er, sorry, Schnitzler, Froese teamed up with young avantgarde jazz drummer Christopher Franke, turned him into a young avantgarde keyboardist and formed the second core lineup of Tangerine Dream. For this particular album, the talents of two more keyboardists (Steve Schroyder and Roland Paulick) were also used, and Udo Dennebourg contributes flute. As for the compositions, there are only three - a short introduction ('Sunrise In The Third System'), and the two lengthy tracks - one apparently describing the actual journey to Alpha Centauri ('Fly And Collision Of Comas Sol'), and the second one dedicated to the stay on the system ('Alpha Centauri', true enough).

And it's all very nice-sounding, indeed. One thing I miss are the wild guitar solos; Froese seriously limits his licks on here, and for the most part, makes the guitar passages subordinate to the keyboards, or perhaps he just plugs all of his guitars through synthesizers, making them sound "keyboardish" (kinda like Steve Hackett used to do during his work with Genesis). But the lack of guitar heroics is compensated by a sense of... a sense of SENSE, I'd say. This is truly an atmospheric record, able to take you places if you wish, with a well-defined structure and purpose.

'Sunrise In The Third System' slowly and solemnly builds up on a rising wave of organ sounds, against which Froese weaves his subtle "wobbling" guitar lines - and forms a perfect introduction to the main cosmic journey. 'Fly And Collision Of Comas Sol' is true to the title. The first part is the 'fly', a lengthy, static organ pattern backed up with calm flute noises, which then slowly, slowly, deadly slowly gives way to a barrage of astral noise which brings on the 'collision' part: the organ dies away and is replaced by a wild, crashing drum onslaught. Yeah, Schulze did some mad drumming on the previous album, too, but there it was unpredictable (in a bad sense - you never knew when you had to cover up your eardrums) and pointless; here, Franke's drumming - I'm assuming it's Franke on the drums, although I could be wrong - represents either some sort of cosmic battle or just one cosmic body crashing into another. Whatever it is, it's firmly in place.

The title track lacks these moments of wildness - presumably, we're already supposed to be exploring the system and admiring the miracles of otherworldly life, instead of participating in gigantic space battles. Lots of white noise here, but lots of mood-setting organs and relaxing flutes as well, for about eighteen minutes or so, until it all reaches a solemn culmination in the "grand finale", with church organ and overdubbed 'harmonies' - I actually hesitate to call them that, as 'stoned out echoey screaming' sounds more like it, but it's well-organized and arranged screaming; remember, Alpha Centauri is anything but a chaotic album. Everything here is pre-planned and calculated, and I sure prefer it to the wild-eyed self-indulgent ambitious "jamming" of Electronic Meditation.

Arguably, Alpha Centauri is the first ever ambient album (although I admit that the question 'what was the first ever ambient album?' is only second in stupidity and pointlessness to the question 'what was the first ever punk album?': there are miriads of candidates for the job, from T.D. to Cluster to Mike Oldfield to Brian Eno to Philip Glass, and it all depends on our definition of the limits of Ambient as a genre). But even if it isn't the first, or it isn't ambient at all, calling it just a rip-off of some Floydian textures seems rather far-fetched to me. Doubtlessly, the album had a lot of innovative value in its time, and as far as these kinds of 'astral soundtrack thingies' go, it's still perfectly enjoyable in our times - even despite the fact that there are way too few musical ideas displayed on here.



Year Of Release: 1972

Okay, let's cut that terminological crap. This album IS ambient. It's also revolutionary and super-ambitious, a double album with but four compositions on it, and issued two years before Yes dared to repeat the basic structure. It's also almost totally unlistenable when taken as foreground music and almost totally unsettling and disturbing as background music. It gets a really low rating.

But it's also supposed to get a review, I daresay. For this record (and for a rather long subsequent period), Froese and Franke were joined by Peter Baumann, who had the idea to add up some strings to the band's by now traditional synthesizer drone. The idea itself was good. Unfortunately, there were other ideas as well - one of which was the usual "pull-all-the-stops" idea that inevitably reaches every talented and untalented artsy band and makes them gruesomely overrate their talent and make themselves the laughing stock of the critics. (And Zeit was ridiculed by the critics, and this at a time when it was hard to imagine a Krautrock album getting a negative review - in Germany, at least.)

Like I said, four compositions here are strewn over four LP sides; however, unlike the compositions on Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, these aren't so much compositions as they are just extended sonic landscapes. Froese and Co. explore Sound as a conception, and their wish to have themselves a huger canvas to do that in detail is understandable, but it doesn't make up for pleasant listening. The first track, 'Birth Of The Liquid Pleiades', has, I think, a total of three or four different notes extracted over a twenty-minute running course; there's one basic synthesizer playing one basic, simple "pattern", and at times it is joined by other, equally minimalistic noise-making gadgets in different speakers. The main idea here is that no note should last less than two or three seconds - revolutionary at the time, yes, but much embettered since then.

'Nebulous Dawn' comes next, almost bursting my speakers' bass level - this is Tangerine Dream borrowing some industrial ideas from Kraftwerk and Faust. If the dawn is indeed 'nebulous', then the 'nebula' must be a euphemism for smog: the only picture I can get in my head from listening to this are the high chimneys atop coal-burning factories. And that drip-drip-dripping sound must be radioactive waste polluting our rivers? Brr, don't ask me... If you've heard thirty seconds of it, you've heard all seventeen minutes of it. Of course, that's the point, so don't take that as a complaint.

'Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities' kinda baffles me. Are the 'supernatural probabilities' supposed to have originated from a boiling cauldron? Cause that's what those synth loops sound like. At least, the previous two tracks had a certain 'celestial' sound to them; this one sounds more hellish to me. Finally, 'Zeit' is just undescribable because it doesn't actually have a base. They're probably alternating between different synths on there, and they do return the 'celestial' atmosphere, but they do that at a loss of the foundation.

Overall, that was less than a dozen lines of text for an album that goes on for almost eighty minutes. And what's the result? A feeling of loneliness and disturbance, and also a feeling of pity at having wasted more than an hour of one's precious time. (It goes without saying that Zeit does not require more than one listen - chop up each composition in ten sections and you get ten exact same songs, so one could say I'd already listened to the album ten times. Or more). A certain looney part of the population might enjoy this stuff; I vehemently protest against it. Ambient music is auxiliary music by its nature, helping one relax and creating a becalmed mood - something that, for instance, Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon is supposed to do. Zeit is not so much a relaxative album as an explorative one - but as almost every "purely explorative" album, it had very quickly become dated.

I mean, I can't really relax to these tunes. They're bass-heavy! They're unsettling! They're, in fact, ugly: 'Nebulous Dawn' buzzes along in such an annoying manner I could listen to a bunch of bus noises with equal effect. But if I can't relax to these 'tunes', am I supposed to treat them as 'serious music'? Never in my life. So what good is this album? No good at all. Together with Kraftwerk 2, it's the worst Krautrock album I've ever heard, and definitely Tangerine Dream's lowest point. Good thing they'd abandoned that direction altogether.


ATEM **1/2

Year Of Release: 1973

Better, if only because it's shorter. Kidding, of course - I don't really care if the (appropriately titled) Zeit were going on for eighty minutes or for forty; shite is shite, no matter how much shite you're contemplating. On Atem, Froese, Franke, and Baumann, still experimenting with ambient techniques, actually take care to ensure that something does happen, for better or for worse. It's just as disturbing as its predecessor, but this time, it's a record that can actually be listened to, hey, it can even be listened to more than once. Hear me say that!

The entire first side is still occupied by one single track ('Atem', right), and seeing as 'Atem' means 'breath' in German, I'm assuming that these twenty minutes represent the musical equivalent of a person's breath. Kraftwerk had already tried that trick on an earlier album, but it was short and gimmicky and less metaphoric - they really made their synths sound like somebody breathing (all it takes is a little white noise, you understand); here, the sonic layers are less straightforward, giving you enough chance to fantasize about all the microscopic activities going on while you inhale and exhale.

It's a two-part track, by the way. The first five minutes are fast and furious: there's a grim synth loop carrying forward something that, rather suspiciosly, smells like a real melody, while Franke pounds out on his drums like mad. Maybe this is supposed to symbolize somebody running, or somebody being born, or... hey, you do your own little fantasy after acquiring this stuff. It's not particularly special, and Franke's drumming doesn't really add anything to the mad drumming style of Klaus Schulze as heard on Electronic Meditation, but it's the only moment of rage'n'fury on the entire album, so that's a consolation.

The rest of the track just alternates between quieter and louder synth parts - the running has stopped, or the person has been born, and now we're welcome to enjoy the simple process of breathing. I may be wrong, but I think there is a very subtle, very hard-to-notice crescendo running throughout the rest: at least I can certainly state that for a few minutes, I don't hear nuthin' unless I turn my volume THAT loud, and then after a while I hear lots of ugly white noise and have to turn my volume THAT down. Thrilling, isn't it? Definitely a headphones joy.

The second track is more exciting, though. 'Fauni Gena': is it supposed to be 'animal genesis' or something, in a thoroughly corrupted Latin? This relatively short (only ten minutes long!) extravaganza begins in the usual minimalistic synth/flute/dripping-something style, but then the band makes the miraculous solution of bringing in a Mellotron, and that one's definitely a crescendo. And you know what? For some reason, very few people had ever bothered to create an ambient landscape by use of a Mellotron, and dammit if I ever know why: it sounds moodier and more involving than any possible synthesizer. I really get a feeling of being lost and roaming through some kind of primal jungle, with pretty birds chirping all around me but an ominous sense of remote danger always at my heels. Could this be called a 'sense of purpose'? You bet.

Two more tracks, this time even shorter, provide us with a coda. They're not particularly blistering, though; 'Circulation Of Events', for instance, has no special trick that hadn't already been employed on 'Atem', and is therefore pointless. And 'Wahn' begins in a very stupid way - the way the band members are booing and cooing and producing all kinds of hooliganry in the studio reminds me of a bunch of 8-year-olds gathered around an old country well and making fools of themselves shouting into it, throwing in stones and enjoying the ripples and the echoes. Which might be allright for 8-year-olds, but is hardly appropriate for... ah well, then again it's avantgarde art I'm speaking about. Isn't avantgarde, in a large part, about getting back to the basics? Plus, doesn't 'Wahn' mean 'delirium' in German? Who am I to complain? Anyway, having started on this ambiguous note, 'Wahn' ends almost the way the album had begun, with a more upbeat, dynamic, prominent drum-and-synth-loop-based pattern, albeit a far quieter one than at the beginning of 'Atem'.

The problem with this album is that, while it's considerably more listenable than Zeit, from now on Tangerine Dream's efforts in this genre could hardly be called innovative. The Krautrock scene had already innovated whatever it could; by 1973, bands like Can, Amon Düül II, Faust and Neu! had already pretty much shot their wad, with some of them still making good music, but already hardly cutting edge. (Well, mayhaps 1973 was the last album when there was made something universally significant - like Can's Future Days or Faust's Faust Tapes). It was apparent that the Cosmic Masters image of Tangerine Dream was obsolete as well - it was either time to decide to move on, or time to decide they'd forever stabilize in that function. Tangerine Dream, and Mr Froese in particular, chose the former variant and the former variant turned out to be the right one.



Year Of Release: 1973

Their best so far! Ironically, the album was never released upon recording - it went straight to the shelf, only to see the light of day in 1986. I'm not sure about the exact reasons, but I think I wouldn't be far from the truth to say that the band's record company, Ohr Musik, had a serious part in the matter. These guys favoured Tangerine Dream's image as 'cosmic explorers', prompting them to keep on pushing trash like Zeit onto all kinds of perky avantgarde ears; but Froese was rather sick of this image for the time being, and Green Desert pushes the band into a new, more easily accessible and even commercial direction.

Not that the style has changed in a revolutionary manner: Green Desert is still a transitionary album, only featuring one track in the world-famous synth-boppy style of Tangerine Dream's mid-Seventies records. The rest are still full of ambience and staticness - lush, dreamy sonic panoramas subject to all kinds of interpretations. But this time, something definitely happens: there's enough development and sense of direction within each separate track to guarantee forty minutes of normal, totally normal listening.

There's one bad thing that can be said about the title track. So far, I have always taken the Pink Floyd comparisons with a grain of salt; sure, Tangerine Dream were influenced by Barrett, Waters, Gilmour and company quite a lot, but they were essentially 'electronic minimalists', trying to strip Sound to its bare bones, whereas the Floydsters liked to be loud and dynamic. Floyd would never stoop to recording something as phoney and overblown as Zeit, nor would Tangerine Dream ever commercialize their sound enough to do a 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun'. However, on 'Green Desert' the Floyd influences suddenly rear their heads up to the skies - the main theme, with grim onrolling waves of synth grunting serving as a background for slow, moody, ominous guitar phrasing almost seems to have been lifted directly from Floyd's 'Obscured By Clouds'... and probably was. Arguably it's the most derivative track Froese ever did (even if for a band that had more than seventy albums out, any kinds of generalisations would be unverifiable).

But that hardly means it ain't effective! Frankly speaking, it's hard for me to imagine anything like a green desert, but I sure can imagine a yellow desert, and that will also work. Besides, the track is multi-part - good enough for a side-long composition. First it's just the grumbly synths slowly setting the atmosphere... and no, they're not just repeating the same sounds over and over, they're actually growing on you, involving you, making you wanna HIDE! HIDE! HIDE! Run for your life! The guitars don't really assault you when they come in, but they're pretty scary nevertheless (well, it is scary when a technically fluent guitarist such as Mr Froese suddenly rips off every note ever played by the mathematically precise David Gilmour, isn't it?). Then come the drums - the real thunderstorm, effectuated by Mr Franke in his usual unabashed manner. And finally, we end on some aethereal notes which I actually happen to like.

Out of the three other tracks, 'Astral Voyager' is the most significant: it's the first Tangerine Dream composition to feature the fast robotic synth loop, an idea they took over the Who ('Baba O'Riley') and Floyd ('On The Run') and perfected on the next few albums. The number is minimalistic, but pretty; I especially honour the little flute-imitating synths that set a particularly benevolent and solemn mood.

The other two tracks aren't that memorable, but do check out 'White Clouds' for more impeccable drum work from Mr Franke, and do check out 'Indian Summer' if you wanna experience Tangerine Dream experimenting with the sonic effects of hit-and-pause (basic structure: WHAMMMM!... silence... WHAMMM!... more silence... WHAMMM!... more silence + white noise...). You get my drift, don't you? And by the way, I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the track served as a major influence on Eno, who, however, put these solemn one-chord synth blasts to better use on 'Spider And I', not to mention more 'ambient' tracks like 'Sense Of Doubt' on Bowie's Heroes album.

Altogether, the album won't leave you breathless unless you're a whacked-out ambient dude who does believe this kind of music to be the most impressive thing on Earth after Malevich, but I am a believer in minimalism, after all (so far, one has yet to prove me that minimalist musical textures "suck"), and this is pretty inspired minimalism. If you believe you can do better - try that!



Year Of Release: 1974

So that settles it. We're on a new record label now. We're on Virgin. We're still making cosmic crap, but this is not the same cosmic crap as before. We want to sell records. We want to sell A LOT of records. We want to be marketed. We need to be marketed. We will be marketed. But we will be smart. We will be creative and commercial at the same time. We will do the impossible; we will not sacrificed our identity, yet we will be popular.

Frankly speaking, I don't quite understand how Phaedra could have occupied all those high charts position in Europe at the time. Well, probably it did that for the same reason Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick made it to #1 two years earlier: people were feeling the 'breath of the times' and trying to adapt to it. Or maybe they were wishing to feel the breath of the times. Anyway, it's quite worth noting that out of all the Kraftwerk bands, it was the two electronic ones - Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk - who hit it real big in the mid-Seventies (mid-Seventies, mind you, not early Seventies when bands like Can and Faust ruled supreme and sold miserable). Electronica was the future, see?

Only where Kraftwerk dream were perfecting the cold mechanical robotic approach, Tangerine Dream were still perfecting their astral themes. Phaedra does just that - even more so than Green Desert, it creates an atmosphere of spaced-out dizzy ambience. As usual, the first side is entirely occupied by one track (the title one), while the second side is dedicated to three lesser ones. 'Phaedra' is structured a bit similarly to 'Atem': there's a fast energetic part and then a slow moody part, only this time the parts are more or less equal in length. The fast part introduced the Great Boppy Loop to the public for the first time (remember that Green Desert didn't see the light of day until twelve years later); it's truly fascinating in its development and progression, although I could certainly do without a couple minutes or so. But the little trick where the tape loop suddenly starts drifting upwards in tonality is well worth the wait. The second part of the song is rather trite, though. I can't say that I much enjoy that stern organ-imitating buzz - I had that on just about every preceding album.

'Mysterious Semblances At The Stand Of Nightmares' go on for ten minutes and seem to be dedicated to exactly one thing: "how much can we change that pitch within one single note?". Or something like that. I'm not condemning the tune, mind you. It's atmospheric all right. It influenced Brian Eno for sure. Plus, it has a few Mellotron passages in it, and that's a nice way, the way they merge the Mellotron sound with the VC3 sound (in case that's a VC3 - one thing I know shit about are the different synthesizer kinds, and yeah, I know Tangerine Dream use about a gazillion different types of synthesizers. Well, it's their job, isn't it?).

For no apparent reason, my favourite track on here is 'Movements Of A Visionary'. No, I don't like the title, because I consider it to be self-indulgent, but I can't deny that, although it's just a seven-minute long track, it has just as many separate 'movements' in it as 'Phaedra' has (which is, maybe about two or three, and that's MUCH for a Tangerine Dream track. Man, next time you want to condemn me for writing stupid things in my reviews, please keep in mind that no sane person has yet embarked on a task of reviewing the entire Tangerine Dream catalog. I warn you: you're in for a ride of a lifetime, both in the literal and figural senses). Let's see: we start off with a couple minutes of otherworldly rattlesnake noises, and then get another Boppy Loop with organs and synths playing cute little chirpy melodies in the background. Isn't that the true sign of a genius?

If not, maybe 'Sequent 'C' is. Because it lasts for two minutes and is thus the greatest song on here. As you understand, I don't like Phaedra at all. To tell the truth, the only thing it adds to the already existent Tangerine Dream legacy is the Boppy Loop. In other words, you can take, for instance, the four tracks off Zeit, mix 'em up with a speedy synthesizer loop and what you get is Phaedra. What a smart marketing move. For some reason, people just wouldn't buy all those T.D. albums when there were no fast rhythms, but give 'em a fast rhythm and voila! The cat's in the bag. Or whatever there is in the goddamn bag?

The good news is that with public success usually comes a need to change, and Tangerine Dream did change a lot over the following few years. But unfortunately, that doesn't at all concern Phaedra. Ah, well, just one more of those 'classic' albums your humble servant will never tolerate. Too bad.



Year Of Release: 1975

1975 was the year of final stabilization for Tangerine Dream, and it's symbolized by the three projects realised at the time. One studio album (Rubycon), one live album (Ricochet) and one soundtrack (Sorcerer): these projects were the first symbol of the three parallel directions Tangerine Dream would take. From now on, there would be few years with less than two or even three T.D. records thrown at the public; soundtracks would be the main body, studio albums would be the creme de creme, and live albums would provide some diversity.

And I must certainly say that out of the three categories, it's the live albums that appeal to me the most. At least, this here live album. Essentially Ricochet isn't all that stylistically different from Phaedra; the biggest difference is that Tangerine Dream preferred to compose their live albums of improvised pieces rather than versions of already existent compositions. A thoroughly wise decision: there's no way a Tangerine Dream composition, with all of its pre-processing, looping and phasing can sound different on a live album. On the other hand, when it comes to improvising, this is where the talents of Froese, Franke and Baumann shine in all their might. (All the more painful, of course, is the realisation that they spent exactly forty minutes recording the Ricochet compositions and they turned out to be more impressive than the entirety of Phaedra, recorded over several months... but that's the way a genius is modelled. Inspiration!)

The album is composed of two side-long compositions, recorded over a year apart and slightly re-mixed and a wee bit tampered with in the studio. Don't ask me how the hell are the band members able to extract all these sounds in a live environment, not to mention who plays what. Supposedly it's Franke on the drums when there are real drums, but everything else is provided by synthesizers. Maybe there is a bass guitar and a guitar, though, because there's apparently something that sounds like a guitar and a bass, but you really can't tell with these guys.

All I know is that the compositions work. For one thing, they are louder than on Phaedra, a hell of a lot louder; for another thing, they are more diverse than on Phaedra. There is a definite opposition between the two sides: Side 1 is slower and darker, Side 2 is faster and somewhat more 'playful'. Essentially, the first side is based on a single steady groove: after a short atmosphere-setting introduction, a murky guitar riff appears and leads us off into obscurity. Later on, it disappears, only to reappear towards the end of the composition... but even in its absence, some of the synths still carry it forward at times. But don't think it's that monotonous: there are many varying sections here, one of them bordering on inventing techno beats (a synthesized drum pattern that predates its time by a good twenty years - man, that stuff probably made people gape and fall in bewilderment at the time), and another one fast'n'furious, with Froese playing up a real storm. This is nor really ambient at all; it's a multi-part symphony, and if it was really improvised, as some say, it's truly astounding. Just listen, for instance, to the basic Synth Loop and the way it slowly starts growing out of 'nowhere' at about 7:30. How the hell are they able to do this stuff live? That's insane.

The second part is slightly less impressive, but one shouldn't forget the pretty introduction - after all, the composition begins with a real piano introduction, maybe the first time somebody in the band actually used a real piano. Later on, it's mostly the same standard monotonous pulsations that plague Phaedra; that said, they're still louder, clearer and I can actually understand their claim for beauty. In fact, 'Part 2' is chock-full of extremely tasty keyboard bits and pieces: it doesn't rely so much on space effects and astral noises as it relies on a real classically-influenced synthesizer sound. Again, I wonder how much of this stuff was actually played and how much of it was pre-processed. Obviously, the main synth loop is processed, but I suppose that the noises and the fast 'pseudo-piano' bits are played by Frose and Baumann themselves, and that makes the prospect even more fascinating.

Don't make the mistake of listening to Ricochet as background music. In fact, don't make the mistake of listening to any Tangerine Dream music, except for maybe some soundtracks and later albums, as background music; it's a music to be listened to with care and attention, no matter if it's stupidly boring music like Zeit or a near-masterpiece like Ricochet. There are musical themes here, many of them, and even if some might seem trivial, on second listen they're not. Arguably, this album represents one of the highest points for Seventies' electronica, and rightly so.



Year Of Release: 1975

Basically Phaedra Vol. 2. Or is it? See, the problem with Tangerine Dream albums is, in order to trace the actual differences between their albums, you gotta try and concentrate on these albums - and it's easier to concentrate on the inaugural speech of George W. Bush than on a Tangerine Dream album. 'That was a really cool mood twist with that synth noise', I say at one second, and next thing I know is, seven or eight minutes of the track had passed before I made this remark, and it's like, 'oh no, I'll have to go back now and relisten to all that extract once more'. And it's no use - second time around, I find I've been staring at a little yellow bird outside my window instead of plunging my mind into the deep stratum of Tangerine Dream's meditative masterpiece. Although, wait a minute, couldn't you say that that was the purpose? For me to see a little yellow bird in the light of Rubycon? Isn't that supposed to be different from simply seeing a little yellow bird? Now that's some philosophy for you.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say was that I somehow feel Rubycon to be a slight improvement over Phaedra. Definitely not the band's masterpiece, though, as some will tell you. The first six minutes of the album, in particular, are not at all different from the entire second part of 'Phaedra'. Just a lot of synthesized sighs and moans and the usual aethereal atmosphere. The trademark boppy synths don't come in until later, and somewhere around the eighth minute or so the 'tune' finally begins picking up steam. This time, the boppy synth lines are somewhat 'muffled' when compared to 'Phaedra's, and although the album is electronic in its entirety, it has a slightly less obvious 'sci-fi' feel. More like, you know, just a nice and thought-provoking sonic equivalent of a dark and mysterious landscape, but it's not necessarily an astral landscape, if you know what I mean.

The use of Mellotrons is particularly creative near the very middle of the first part; and then, the band takes chances with all kinds of echoey variations on the main synthesizer track, at times even resulting in that ominous 'scraping' sound that Mr Dave Gilmour would soon expropriate for his guitar.

However, it's 'Rubycon Part II' that really gets me going; 'Part I', after all, was not seriously different from 'Phaedra' - the main difference was that in 'Phaedra' the boppy part preceded the ambient one, while in 'Part I' we started out with ambient and proceeded to slowly 'grow' into the usual boppiness. 'Part II' is different; it's a little bit less monotonous, and it's definitely one of the most disturbing and energetic compositions of the band so far. We begin with an ominous 'siren wail' section which then slowly transforms into an equally ominous majestic synth-wall-of-sound out of which breaks out the usual Bop. And as the Bop grows and complicates itself, somewhere near the sixth minute we finally go off into Tangerine Dream playing some 'real music'...

It's just that the loops are really creative this time - remember, for instance, how at first sight it seems that the synthesizer on 'Baba O'Riley' keeps repeating the same phrase over and over, but in reality the note sequence keeps subtly changing, at least, in the beginning, while the synthesizer is still the main propellent element of the song? Same here; the synth cycles do not last too long without being unchanged, which really gives the impression of a steady spiral motion and a certain dizziness. Too bad the segment only goes on for about six minutes in total, later on returning to more ambient 'puddles'; I was already hauling out the air keyboard in my warped mind. The last five minutes of the track are an acquired taste.

As far as I know, having read some reviews of this album, the best way to enjoy Rubycon is to put it on with middle volume somewhere near dusk, hit the repeat button and relax. Eventually you'll fall asleep, but that's not to be afraid of: Rubycon guarantees you the sweetest dreams. And then, when you awake after thirty years of sweet, healthy, uninterrupted sleep, the meaning of life itself will be clear and transparent to you; not even the electricity bill will be able to ever spoil your mood or drive away the Ultimate Knowledge.

Which, translated into a normal ordinary language, means that on a basic objective level, this album sucks, but even if some people do find it offensive, it's not the band's problem. Froese and Franke are all right. The problem is that some of the music made over the years successfully defies all kinds of objective compliments, and still endures and is enjoyed overtime. (I'm not speaking of Kiss, you understand - trite as it may sound, we're talking intelligent music here). Which is why I don't slam Rubycon. At least the guys put a lot of work into it, not just pressed a couple of keys, as on Zeit.



Year Of Release: 1976

Actually, only released in 1999 as one of the, you know, one of the miriads of... well, you know what I mean, doncha. So let me get straight to the point: you've all probably heard Genesis' 'Watcher Of The Skies', right? (No? What the heck are you doing on a Tangerine Dream page, then? Do you seriously think Tangerine Dream are a better band than Genesis? Beat it!!!). Well, there's that introductory passage there where Tony Banks hits the Mellotrons real real hard, creating a certain mega-atmospheric landscape, as if you're riding on the air, falling in between various flurry torrents and swaying breezes - a somewhat short, but utterly beautiful meditative passage. It then fades away to accumulate the more dynamic structures of the main parts of the song, but it can hardly fade away from our memory, right? And you're hearing this from somebody who blames Tony Banks for just about everything, including global warming.

So what does that have to do with Soundmill Navigator, an archive release of a part of Tangerine Dream's 1976 live show? A lot, actually, as the extended forty two-minute long piece that constitutes the entire record seems, almost in its entirety, an expansion on what that little Genesis trick actually showed us in 1972. This album, compared to the band's 1974-75 efforts, is definitely 'ambient', but certainly far from 'ambient' if compared to the behemothic nothing of Zeit. There is no basic melody as far as I hear it, but there certainly is a theme that gradually develops over time, gradually reaches its climax and then gradually fades away - kinda like on Floyd's 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene', only for a far longer period of time and without any particular 'thrill' whatsoever.

The chief emphasis at the beginning of the track is on Mellotrons - like I said, they seem to take their inspiration from that Genesis tune (maybe not literally so, but close enough), unfurling some grandiose ice-cold and majestic landscapes, drenched in classical influences; later on, the Mellotrons slowly give way to synthesizers, and somewhere around the fifteenth minute or so the trademark boppy loops finally appear. They're not very insistent, though - muffled down and kept out of the foreground, so as not to overshadow all the texture embellishments, and your trusty 'boppy nerve' will remain stable and safe throughout most of the album. The boppy part slowly plods on, reaching its culmination somewhere around the thirtieth minute, and the last ten minutes are the "regression": we are once more left without rhythm, groping around in the synthy darkness, until we find light in the guise of another Mellotron passage, symmetrically leading us to the well-expected and predictable end of the piece.

So... how good is this? Difficult question. One thing's for certain: as a wholesome and well-structured composition, 'Soundmill Navigator' is impeccable. All of its forty minutes flow by smoothly and without any painful disruptions or disturbing unpredictable shifts in mood or tonality; for me, this is a plus - as you know, I prefer to relax to my 'ambient' or 'quasi-ambient', and this is a good enough way to relax. Don't get me wrong, though: this is a far less monotonous thing than could be thought of, as the quantity of synths and various gadgets used to extract all these sounds are way beyond count. In addition, Froese picks up his guitar and from time to time delivers some moody passages that can be lost in the haze if you're not attentive (and it IS hard to be attentive when listening to albums like these), but turn out to be quite inspired when you pick 'em out and shove 'em down inside your earlobes.

And don't forget that all of this stuff is live, either. (I'm really a sucker for TD live albums, right?). It's not that easy to get such a monster going and keep it up for forty minutes, isn't it? Suppose not. In fact, this archive release is particularly important for us: Soundmill Navigator couldn't have had released in 1976, as they'd have to cut it in two parts, and that would be unexcusable - you can't just break this flow in two, and it would be a crime to fade the whole thing out and then bring it in again. The newly-issued CD now lets us take a peak into the even more explorative and daring side of the TD personality of old - not just the boppy loops, and not just the minimalistic ambient tripe, but a full-fledged pseudo-classical composition of huge epic proportions. As such, while Navigator still gets somewhat lost and forgotten behind the usual appraisal for Encore, it is an extremely important period piece that every TD fan should have. (And for the first time I don't feel silly when saying such a phrase - I can hardly imagine even a hardcore TD fan possessing all of their output. Unless it's all in MP3 form, heh heh).



Year Of Release: 1976

Recorded over a period of intense tension between Froese and Baumann which, unfortunately, Baumann did not survive. Not that it shows: Stratosfear never produces the impression of an underdeveloped album. On the contrary, I'd call it the best Tangerine Dream studio album so far, and I don't care 'bout no hardcore T.D. fans who proclaim it to have been a 'sellout'. Tangerine Dream have been accused of 'selling out' so often over the last twenty-five years that you just can't take any of these accusations seriously. Take it this way: no normal, conventional music listener will ever buy a single T.D. album, be it 'commercial' or 'explorative' or what the heck do you call it. Herr Froese will sell out the day he writes compositions for Britney Spears.

Anyway, returning to Stratosfear: I like the album because it ain't predictable. They kinda drop the Phaedra/Rubycon vibe and concentrate on making slightly (only slightly) shorter pieces, exploring more synth tones and sonic gimmicks than before, and eventually, hitting upon a gold mine of atmospheres and moods that they hadn't discovered before, ONLY because they were far too stubborn and preferred to milk the exact same approach to music, whether it be the boring Zeit approach or the only a wee bit less boring Phaedra approach.

Take the opening track, for instance, the title one. It begins with a few echoey acoustic guitar chords (sellout! sellout!), then ventures out into Mellotron heaven, as on Soundmill Navigator, then gets the usual synth-bop treatment (all within one minute!), then goes into this gradual crescendo with majestic synth melodies that seem to be rising higher and higher into the "stratosfear", then finally stabilize around some rhythmic, concentrated synth solos, then rise even higher, with Franke adding a mad galloping drumbeat and Froese adding some wild guitarwork - and somewhere near the tenth minute, it all comes back, with the acoustic guitar calming down the scene and returning the Loop to its beginning. Thus, we have an economic ten-minute composition that follows all the necessary laws of music making without dropping the experimental edge; a real electronic beauty that doesn't have an exactly defined melody but certainly has a wonderfully developing theme. Add the excellent production: the synth loops are resplendent and never merge with the 'embellishing' synths and guitars into an undiscernible mess. This is truly a headphone delight, much more so than 'Phaedra' or 'Rubycon'.

But that's only the beginning. 'The Big Sleep In Search Of Hades', for the first time ever, gives us a tune where electronic instruments are not the primary means of producing fair sounds: it starts out as a guitar-bass-flute driven medieval ballad, for Chrissake! A pretty good one, too. The synths are, of course, prominently featured in the middle, but it is, indeed, more like a 'different mid-section' than anything else. You could say that with compositions like these Tangerine Dream are sacrificing their hard-earned identity; I insist that the only thing they are trying to do here is to achieve more diversity than usual, and my thumbs are turned up - plus, the echoey spacey production is one hundred percent Tangerine Dream, even if with a different type of production this could have been more like Genesis.

Continuing the search for new sounds, '3 A.M. At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee' has some little bits of harmonica. Eh? Criminy! Harmonica on a TD record! But those two minutes of introduction certainly have a 'swampy' feel, what with all the 'synth bubbles' going up and the 'drip drip drip' synthesizers, and the harmonica certainly fits in with the swampy feel. Before a huge crescendo of synths and Mellotrons comes up and sweeps all of that stuff away, after which we have the synth loops and Herren Froese, Franke and Baumann really giving it their all on their instruments.

Finally, 'Invisible Limits' is the first TD track that I could openly call 'rocking'. The middle of that composition, with the synths propelling a huge vicious groove not unlike the one you'd witness on Deep Purple doing a live jam of 'Space Truckin' and one of the Dreamers playing a violent, wall-rattling synth (or is that synthesized guitar?) solo, certainly rocks in a pretty fine way. The rest of the track isn't that impressive, though.

Overall, Stratosfear certainly marks a turning point: Tangerine Dream are willing to sacrifice a little bit of their 'uncompromised' approach to music-making and make way for more traditional values (diverse instrumentation, development of themes, etc.) - and I don't really care if that is due to commercial reasons or not, because this is the way I love my avantgarde: one foot in tradition, the other foot in the unknown. Too bad this album isn't proclaimed their classic; I view just about everything else as the preparatory stage for it, or for this particular period, at least.



Year Of Release: 1977

William Friedkin had used the talents of Mike Oldfield for Exorcist; now he turns to the talents of Tangerine Dream for Sorcerer. Actually, that was the 'third project' I was speaking of when I said 1975 was the year of the grand "trifurcation" of the band onto studio albums, live records, and soundtracks; most of the music on this album had been written as early as then, but only came out two years later together with the film.

Information on the movie - I haven't seen it, but it's said to be a remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot's 'Salaire De La Peur' ('Wages Of Fear'), based on Georges Arnaud's thriller about four men bravely driving nytroglycerine-filled trucks in the jungles of South America and what came out of it. Frankly speaking, I'm not sure if calling on Tangerine Dream to provide the soundtrack to that stuff was a right idea; listening to the record, I get anything BUT the impression of four guys driving four trucks into darkness and despair. What I really get is more of an impression that the actual title would provide - that is, a mystical and magical atmosphere, as if there were real sorcerers around, you know. But maybe that's what actually helps one digest Sorcerer as more of a full-fledged Tangerine Dream album than just a secondary soundtrack. Because, well, it is full-fledged and quite full-shaped at that, too.

I mean, isn't it some sort of a cliche that Tangerine Dream are a band made for soundtracks? After all those years of being compared to Pink Floyd, too... Not that I really enjoy Sorcerer. It is actually very striking, after all those years, to hear a T.D. album with as much as twelve tracks on it. Twelve - that's almost as much as the number of all the tracks they put out in their pre-Virgin period. But then again, somehow it doesn't work quite that well: abandoning the "lengthy suite" principle seriously relieves the tension, and just as you're ready to hear a certain theme expand into something bigger than it had been for the last two or three minutes, it simply goes away and it's like 'Uh? What the...'. And then the same trick repeats for several times.

That said, Sorcerer certainly isn't bad; it's the first time Tangerine Dream go for a certain 'evil thrill' of their own, and the music on here is denser, darker, far more ominous than just about everything released previously... remember, all the "cosmic-sounding" music is supposed to be of a 'neutral' kind, more of a cold majestic reverence-inducing thing than of an utterly beautiful/gorgeous panorama. (Which can actually help you get an idea of why Yes are so often called 'sissies' even among those who do not have an alergy on prog-rock: they take the Heaven and the Skies and instead of treating them 'realistically', with 'cold neutrality', on an 'objective' basis, turn them into 'La-La land', at least on albums like Close To The Edge and TFTO). This is not the case with Sorcerer: the music on here places the emphasis on 'evil' and 'somber', so that the more impressive souls will probably want to run and hide.

This atmosphere is set right from the very beginning, with those grim synthesizer lines that resemble flying airplanes crossed with industrial noises - the 'Main Theme' isn't even a "theme", it's just a bunch of hellish noises of an obviously apocalyptic nature. Vangelis would be proud of these guys. When the actual music begins, it rarely sounds so scary and nightmarish, but it's never optimistic or bright. The very second track is it - 'Search' establishes a murky industrial loop instead of the by now trademark "astral synth-bop", and Froese overdubs a few suicide-inducing guitar solos that are, I'd say, melancholic and pessimistic rather than straightforward in their evilness, but that don't help none.

There's no need concentrating on most of the individual tracks - their atmospheres are totally alike, and the melodies or quasi-melodies don't differ enough for me to able to describe or rationalize these differences - but maybe a thing like 'Rainy Forest' should be mentioned, where the truck race is illustrated by a truly mad set of loops and looney piano outbursts in the background as if to symbolize total paranoia. Also noteworthy is the sveen-minute long 'Abyss', the closest thing to a 'suite' on here, going from eerie-sounding synth growls to phased Mellotrons to God knows what else. Any Tangerine Dream lover should own this track.

Any T.D. lover, in fact, should have this album: I'm not asking everybody to acquire all the eighty million soundtracks the band had hotcaked out in its prime, not to mention past its prime, but this first one is pretty important for them, not only as a different career move at the time, but also for reasons I have mentioned previously. It's EVIL! And what normal good-willing guy would refuse to hear an EVIL album?



Year Of Release: 1977

The classic phrase: "If you only buy one Tangerine Dream album, let it be Encore". It's not me who says that, mind you. I'm only saying there is a certain universal truth in this saying. Encore returns the band to double-album status, but it's no Zeit: it's a live record, and for a band like T.D. it's strikingly diverse, showcasing just about all of the band's sides over four sides of improvisatory music. Encore can function as a powerful and glorious conclusion to the Froese/Franke/Bauman period, indeed, and my only gripes with the record are that the actual compositions don't match the best stuff I've heard from these guys; over eighty minutes of music, this fact can certainly get on your nerves.

Other than that, these four sides are, indeed, impeccable, showcasing the wonders and the limitless possibilities of Madame Electronica in all her might. The band gets announced, goes on stage, lights its miriads of synthesizers, switches on all the lighting effects, and voila: your future is right under your nose. Ricochet and Soundmill Navigator were nice one- or two-dimension experiments, but on Encore the band is really in full flight, setting one mood after another and drawing you from space into dark forests and from high icy mountains into hottish horny heathen helldom. All over the place, in other words.

As recommended, we begin on an aethereal note. 'Cherokee Lane' is the "heavenly" side of Tangerine Dream, opening with swirling airplane noises. Then, of course, the airplane is left several thousand light years behind, and we simply advance into the dangerous beauty of space on our own. (Who forgot the airsick bags?) What we are presented with are lush Mellotron-dominated classicist panoramas, before a light and shining boppy synth loop takes over and we are exposed to the guys' competent synth soloing with multiple Bach quotations. (I guess). Unerring, never interrupted by any weird avantgarde farts, the track sets a perfect relaxative mood and really shows these classical snubs a thing or two.

'Monolight' brings us back to Earth, but to a very mystical one, of course; these guys ain't no punks, after all. We get excellent piano playing which slowly transforms into a mid-tempo majestic half-waltz, half-march with outstanding synth riffs to fill your imagination. As the music progresses, though, it becomes darker and denser, until the obligatory synth loop appears and you suddenly find out that the beauty is gone and war has come! Grim trumpet-like sounds, ominous, menacing synth loops... desperate wailing organs... hey, these guys aren't just whacko soundscapers, they're dangerous, after all. Guess all that Sorcerer stuff really set them on that path. And, as is the ritual, the track turns full circle when it is concluded by more emotional, Bach-quoting piano lines.

Now we're ready to shoot for the grand prize. That's 'Coldwater Canyon', one of the most thought-provoking, complex and involving compositions the band had ever written. It's time for Herr Froese to prove himself; he whips out the guitar and makes the track his own by unfurling his set of tricks and tones, and also playing some of the wildest licks ever played by a German (unless you count all those hideous German metal bands, of course. Why is it that ninety percent of German metal bands, unlike other metal bands, actually sound like they mean it when they're playing their death metal schtick? Could it be that all German metallists are descended from Gestapo officers? Brr, makes my skin crawl...). In any case, Froese's solos are admirable on here: wild, yet controlled, technically perfect, yet emotionally active, and... hey, maybe I made a mistake when I said about the composition being too 'complex' - it's just that his guitar parts are so complex they make me feel like all the song matches them, when in fact its basic rhythm is pretty simplistic and monotonous.

Finally, one thing we didn't yet experience is the ambient side, and it's right there in the last track, 'Desert Dream'. Not too fond of that one, but it's still light years more interesting than the stuff on Zeit, if only because all these neat little atmospheres and noise fiestas change all the time, and by 'all the time' I don't mean 'every ten minutes or so'. But stop that pandering between speakers, willye? My headphones won't tolerate that!

Oh well. Did I say anything in this review that I haven't already said before? Did I manage to express the album's idiosyncrasy? Describe its uniqueness? Emphasize its importance? Accentuate its significance? You gotta understand me - we have almost sixty Tangerine Dream albums to go next, and if I don't take care, I may soon be simply using the 'copy-paste' principle for every next review. In the meantime, I'll refrain from that and in case you already forgot, I'll just remind you that Encore stands as many T.D. fans' choice for best album and can certainly serve as an appropriate and representative introduction to the band. (In other words, once you've been through it, you probably won't want to get anything else. But don't tell 'em I told you so!).


CYCLONE ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1978

Changes, we're looking for changes! Baumann is out, complaining about the totalitarian rule of Froese; Steve Jolliffe is in, and he effectivewly dismantles this myth by steering Tangerine Dream into a direction quite different from before. (That said, I can't exclude that it was all Froese's doing, and Jolliffe was only needed inasmuch as Froese needed to hold someone responsible for the possible failure - a thing partially confirmed by the fact that afterwards, Edgar would often distance himself from Cyclone, saying it was all Steve's fault). Not only does the album sound more diverse and multi-instrumental than usual, with flutes, violins and all kind of different tricks not employed before, it's also the first Tangerine Dream album ever to feature VOCALS. Jolliffe contributes 'em himself, and in large quantities - apart from a lengthy instrumental passage, the entire first side reveals us the actual presence of humanoids amidst the recording process.

Cyclone is thus a major bone of contention among T.D. fans, but, of course, since the usual argument against the album sounds like "How the hell can a Tangerine Dream album have vocals?", we'll just dismiss that topic. Personally, I like Cyclone, if not necessarily love it; it's not tremendously original, and, indeed, the band might have sacrificed a little bit of personal identity to record it, but the most important thing is emotional contact, and there's plenty of emotional contact here. Heaps of it. Nice melodic sheen, too.

Anyway, most of the first side is dedicated to the progressive epic 'Bent Code Sidewalk'. To tell the truth, it's not a great way to spend thirteen minutes of your time. With its bombastic vocal parts and wave upon wave of meditative monotony, it reminds me of Eloy - and that's not the best of comparisons, is it? Yet, after all, Tangerine Dream are the more competent band out of the two, and Jolliffe's vocals sound acceptable (at least he doesn't have that idiotic German accent of Frank Bornemanne's). The main synthesizer riff that carries the theme, pompous and glossy as it is, does create a suitable majestic atmosphere - it doesn't take that much, does it? Just a few well-placed chords... So I'm kinda torn here.

I'm hardly torn over the next two tracks, though. The short, compact 'Rising Runner Missed By Endless Sender' also has vocals, but that's not the point - the point is that one should dig into the fast, paranoid, pulsating rhythm track distinguished by a "synth-guitar" riff (with the same tone as can be heard on Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition'). Might as well be an outtake from Sorcerer, what with all the darkness, but a darn fine one; this is Atmospheric Electronica at its very, very best. And the track's ending, with the mighty 'rush-to-the-end' and all these echoey 'ah! ah! ah!' are definitely thrilling - if you don't get all the obligatory pictures of running through dark forests with the moon shining bright and creepy shadows rising to meet you from every corner, there's something wrong with your psychology. (Then again, maybe something's wrong with my psychology, but hey, that would imply Tangerine Dream wrote music for whackos, and I'm one of them. So far, such a prospect has never fascinated me).

The second side is definitely more traditional. There's only one track, 'Madrigal Meridian', that runs for the good old twenty minutes, and it's based on a good old boppy synth loop. But wait, no, it's NOT a good old boppy synth loop. It sounds more like they 'sampled' the coda to 'Baba O'Riley' here. Count me happy - the band never yet had a chance to bop around in such a 'happy', jiggy way, with some real drumming at that. The merry little jig keeps you awake and active for most of the time, and over that background Froese and Franke display their usual virtuosity, unfurling synth and guitar landscapes the likes of which... okay, not to get too pathetic, this is just nice. I particularly enjoy the part where Froese really lets rip on his guitar, playing some moody, grizzly distorted solos, and yes, the part after that, where Jolliffe plays a nice 'underworld' violin solo, kinda like Eddie Jobson used to play in Roxy Music. I could do without the last five minutes, though, when the jig dies away and we just get some rudimentary musicmaking to end our day.

But in any case, if Cyclone was supposed to be experimental, then the experiment certainly worked. There's all kinds of bombast and pomp, there's a sense of paranoia, there's some ass-kickin' energy, strong rhythms, real drumming, feeling of the unexplored, thrill of the undiscovered... get it? Oh well, I suppose some fans would prefer to have Phaedra Vol. III instead. Too bad Jolliffe never lasted too long - his brand new ideas ultimately crashed, and he didn't live long within the band to have a chance to get to another album.



Year Of Release: 1979

So, Jolliffe is out, and the band is again reduced to the Froese/Franke companionship. The fans often praise this album as a 'return to form' after the dubious vocal experimentation, but every 'return to form' brings changes whether you want 'em or not, and these changes don't seem that good to me. Influenced by the previous album, the band steps away from the "pure electronica" conception again, letting in guitars and even flutes on occasion, but the main thing is, Force Majeure, in a large part, is a dynamic album, and not a very inspired one at that.

There's virtually nothing innovative here; the band seems stagnated in its own groove, and desperately trying to expand upon it, tries to imitate the 'progressive' sounds of the day, with lengthy, unnerving keyboard and guitar solos (in the primary meaning of the term, I mean - 'solo' as 'developing solo part from a particular instrument' as opposed to an electronic loop or an endlessly repeating series of mantraic three notes or something even more avantgarde). In the process, they manage to sound embarrassingly lame at times, more like Genesis circa '77 or Kansas rather than a true Krautrock band. The album almost entirely rejects the conception of loops, embracing the conception of short alternating "atmospheric panoramas" instead, and that might have been good in a perfect world, but the world around 1979 was far from a perfect place.

The title track, side-long and epic in sweep (well, every Tangerine Dream track is, in a certain sense), seems to have it all - an ominous, thrilling introduction with heavy organ pulsation like a giant oceanic monster slowly rising to the surface; an ambient, synth-orchestrated first part to show the light of the day; a moody and murky guitar solo to announce the coming of the danger; a short loopin' section that hearkens back to the happy days of Phaedra for a couple minutes; a random section of industrial noises and stuff; a shiny happy loop to keep us shiny and happy; a Tony Banks-style synthesizer solo; and even a section of cute electronic poppy riffage a la Kraftwerk of the epoch. In short, there's more happening on that track than on all of Tangerine Dream's ten first studio albums. And yet it never seems to grab me all that tight. Maybe in a certain metaphoric sense 'Force Majeure' can be seen as a natural conclusion to a decade of search and experiment, like a brief summary of all of that decade's innovation. In this case, it has its uses. But there's nothing on here I haven't seen elaborated in a better and more emotionally resonant way before - no new, unprecedented tricks, no new impressions. None.

Pretty much the same goes for the second side, which is nevertheless a bit better. 'Cloudburst Flight', beginning with a short folksy acoustic introduction, soon develops into what the title bills it as, a steady and unchanging majestic groove over which Froese unfurls his batteries of guitars, both simple and electronically encoded (that's a guitar solo he has on the fifth minute, right? Just let through a synthesizer? Am I getting it correct?); but I'd take 'Coldwater Canyon' over this any time of day anyway. Now here's the painful side effect of releasing too much product (and wait, we haven't even got to the Eighties yet! And the Nineties? Shiver me timbers, Tangerine Dream in the Nineties, ooh...).

The best composition, of course, is 'Thru The Metamorphic Rocks'. The "aggressive" part of the story, it at least manages to build that aggression up to an extremely high peak, which isn't something I could say about the gentler moods of the preceding tracks. Froese's "phased" solo in the first part actually goes somewhere this time, even if I find it way too similar to Steve Hackett's workouts of the same style, but the main tasty bit is the proto-techno synth loop (okay, so this track does rely on looping - but why only one?) that hits you over the head in the middle and really comes out as evil and jarring, especially with all the 'fake percussion' noises around. It's not like the band didn't have aggressive loops before, but this one is almost like a warcry, and ends the album on a frightening and unsettling note after all the relatively becalmed noodlings of the first side.

Still, I'm pretty much disappointed - of course, it's not like I could expect a lot from Tangerine Dream at such a minute (only two members, big internal problems, etc.), but for a band leading forward the electronic revolution, I expect more experimentation and more decisive results with every new album, unless it happens to be a commercial soundtrack or something. Force Majeure just doesn't cut it - not more so than anything else done previously, at least.


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