Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express - Review
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critics' view

Disclaimer: I’m a sucker for a deadpan delivery, appregio and melody. “Trans Europa Express” has all three and has got to be up there with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall as one of Germany’s greatest post WWII statements… “Dear Europe, we love you.” It's a perfect production, probably one of the most cohesive albums ever made, and, judging by the reception afforded Kraftwerk (and their ilk), I think it’s clear to see the world loves Germany’s post-war babies. Miles apart from ‘75s “Radio-Aktivität” in terms of pop consistency; “Trans Europa Express” was an adventure playground for cutting-edge futurists.

The latest album from the quartet was delivered in March ’77, fittingly and famously launched with a train journey press conference from Paris. The impressive TEE network ran from Spain in the west to Austria in the east, and from Denmark to Southern Italy. Germany was central to the network, connected at every angle – this seems like a natural cause for celebration, and Kraftwerk’s mechanical rhythms lent themselves perfectly to the theme. Ever the perfectionists, they even went to railway bridges to listen to the sounds that trains actually produced, although they found that these were not danceable and slight alterations had to be made!

Although I initially had the English version of this album, some time back I took the plunge to invest in the German language versions of all the groups’ albums; the urge for authenticity was too great. Scarcely can any side of an LP have been so perfectly constructed as side A of this set. The blemish-free “Europa Endlos” is a blissful 10 minute paean to the elegant continent; it perfectly captures a sense of wonder at the beginning of a new journey. For all their robotic sound, Kraftwerk still manage to convey much emotion, in their own strange way.

Spiegelsaal” (“The Hall of Mirrors”) and “Schaufensterpuppen” (“Showroom Dummies”) both have vocals which are detached, but challenge everyday human insecurities; even famous stars fix their face in the looking glass and being put out on display is an uncomfortable feeling for most.

On side 2, “Trans Europa Express”, “Metall Auf Metall” and “Abzug” essentially serve as a 3-part suite of the same 13-minute journey, the metal on metal mid-piece breaking down to the bare clang-chug of the wheels on the rail-track. The shimmering “Franz Schubert” flirts mesmerizingly and prettily with classical motifs for four minutes, before seamlessly segueing with the vocoder reprise of “Endlos Endlos” which signals the end of our round trip.

I want to go again. Can we go again? Please let us go again…

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