Kraftwerk – Trans Euro Express

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1 review for Kraftwerk – Trans Euro Express

  1. Rated 4 out of 5

    Modern Music Dan

    Trans Europe Express: a surprisingly emotional synth-pop electro-ballet

    Released in 1977, Kraftwerk’s hugely influential album was the perfect antidote to the packaged pugilism of punk in its electronic inventiveness and love of repetition and sequenced minimalism.

    The opening track, ‘Europe Endless,’ dances electronically into earshot and sounds like some hybrid of early Steve Reich meets Weather Report in a benign mode. There’s a wilful harmonic naivety to the music that means you either love it or hate its simple, amiable, consonant chords. ‘Hall of Mirrors’ revels in bubbling sequences and the sound of relentless, echoing footsteps beneath a strange, impersonal mixture of spoken word and intoned chant. With its shades of Talking Heads’ ‘Remain In Light,’ it has an almost hallucinatory quality. ‘Showroom Dummies’ has a kind of robotic swagger, whilst the title track has something about that first chord, built on a sequence of expanding perfect fourths; there’s no tonal allegiance as there would be in traditional, functional harmony – the chord could continue building indefinitely. The rising series starts to assume a mechanistic grandeur over the repeated electronic imitation train-sounds. In some ways, it sounds like a rejected part of some 70s sci-fi film (think of the remorseless cybernetic threat of ‘Terminator’ or ‘Westworld’), but it has a hypnotic quality that takes you along. It also features a rather eerie keyboard melody that twists and turns upon itself in a somewhat ominous fashion– there is no escape, it seems to say.

    ‘Metal on Metal’ returns to synthesised train travel, adorned now with metallic riffs and patterns echoing hollowly above, and that rather eerie keyboard melody. When the original rising-fourths pattern eventually returns, and the intoned ‘Trans Europe Express,’ both aspects now possess a menacing, emphatic quality, and when that eerie keyboard melody returns, it brings the track to an unsettling close.

    Contrastingly, the atmosphere is then lifted by the mellifluous, slightly trippy ‘Franz Schubert,’ a series of short melodic trips floating above a repeating sequence and synth-voice harmonies that, rather than the latent implacability of previous songs, has a gently appealing quality, a warmth lacking hitherto on the album. This leads without a break into the echoing ‘Endlos Endlos’ as the sequencing fades into the distance to bring the entire album to surprisingly emotional conclusion.

    ‘Trans Europe Express’ has gone on to be hugely influential; listening in retrospect, it’s hard not to hear shades of Philip Glass, Talking Heads, Jean-Michel Jarre, not to mention all those artists that themselves gleefully plundered the album; even modern-day electronica coming out of Japan (Emerson Kitamura, for instance) seems to be haunted by Kraftwerk’s continuing presence. Take a seat aboard Kraftwerk’s timeless train-travel hymn and see where it takes you…

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