Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express

Trans-Europe Express

Released 1977 on Capitol
Reviewed by dave clarkson, 08/08/2005ce


Europe Endless
The Hall of Mirrors
Showroom Dummies
Trans-Europe Express
Metal on Metal
Franz Schubert
Endless Endless

Recorded and Mastered at Klingklang Studio (Düsseldorf), Rüssl Studio (Düsseldorf) and the Record Plant (Hollywood).

Florian Schneider (Drums, Keyboards, Vocals, Voices, Electronic Sounds, Producer, Electronics), Ralf Hütter (Drums, Keyboards, Vocals, Voices, Electronic Sounds, Producer, Electronics), Karl Bartos (Electronic Percussion, Percussion), Wolfgang Flür (Electronic Percussion, Synthesizer, Percussion), Peter Bollig (Engineer), Thomas Kuckuck (Engineer), Peter Boug (Engineer), Bill Halverson (Engineer), J Stara (Photography), Maurice Seymour (Photography).

It’s a very difficult choice deciding on a Kraftwerk album to review. After pondering on the Kraftwerk 1, 2 and Ralf and Florian, only to discover the inclusion of HH reviews which already discuss their brilliance. Autobahn, Radioactivity, Computer World and the recent Tour De France Soundtracks – all great albums as well. Shit – even Electric Café (or the soon to be re-titled ‘Techno Pop’) has its moments and is much better than people have previously given it credit, especially for its themes of superhighway communication – again ahead of its time. However, for many reasons and for the belief that this album is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, it’s Trans-Europe Express that still does it on all levels.

Trans-Europe Express is melodic, industrial, meditative, conceptual, hypnotic, reflective, romantic, disturbing, minimal, mechanised, evocative, atmospheric, forlorn, dreamy….and very influential. Having started on the travel theme with the 1974 Autobahn release, Trans-Europe Express took the sound into a more repetitive world with the aid of new technology combined with the nature of the project. The sleeve is a nice counterpoint to the music, depicting a photo collage put together by French photographer, J Stara. The early version of the album also featured a fine fold out poster depicting the group sitting at a table in a coffee bar on the Rhine. This poster was put together by Emil Schult, long time collaborator and artist to the band.

For technophiles, Trans-Europe Express was a departure (no pun intended) from the bands usage of familiar technology at the time. During the period post Autobahn, the early sequencer was invented by Matten and Wiechers and was able to control the precision of tempos and notes. Kraftwerk welcomed this new method of precision and accuracy and incorporated it into the album, giving the tracks a mechanised and hypnotic sound without taking away the voice of their music. In some ways, the sequencer made the music sound more minimal due to the nature of the space between notes. This was indeed a revolutionary sound which to this day has been standard practice in much electronic music, whether looping the sequences or speeding them up. The whole idea of BPM starts here and the idea of a live drummer seemed redundant from this point on. Maybe that was why the band played fewer gigs post Autobahn and pre Computer World, looking for a new way of presenting the live Klingklang sound.

Opening with the romantic and reflective ‘Europe Endless’, a glorification of Europe and the parks, hotels and palaces put to a pacey rhythm and beautiful looped sequence. The mood is captured fantastically on this flowing track with its references to ‘elegance’ and ‘decadence’. Anyone who has ever done the Euro Inter rail trip thing would love this song and all nine plus minutes of its journey. Europe is endless and timeless and offers new discoveries in every city. Don’t mention British Rail as Europe would definitely not be endless, only the endless number of complaints. I digress…... Europe Endless is a wonderfully catchy, warm and welcoming start to the album and is slightly deceiving when the rest of the album takes a further direction, due to the relaxed state that the track puts you in.

Moving away from the travel theme, ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ is a slower and more darker piece of music concerned with the perceptions of reality. A pre ‘the Model’ theme of image and looking at the reflection of oneself pervades the lyricism of this song. The mirror sees you for who you really are. Even the greatest stars discover themselves in the looking glass. This is a reflective track in another form – one which the truth is told. Over the sound of footsteps and electronic flutters. Whereas ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ is a warning, maybe somewhat moral, about the dangers of celebrity and stardom, ‘Showroom Dummies’, however, could be seen as the counterpoint. I’ve always thought that ‘Showroom Dummies’ would have fitted better on the ‘Man Machine’ album with its robotic and artificial flavour. This seemed the point at which Kraftwerk started their interest in robots, control and artificial intelligence systems and the ideas which they were to become famous themselves for and which unfortunately people recognised more so then their other areas and themes. The song is written in a minor key to give it more gravity towards a serious and some might say, pessimistic quality.

The epic title track begins by building up the steam within the locomotive through a sequence of arpeggio synth power chords before the train starts the journey clicking out the rhythm of the railway track. ‘Trans-Europe Express’ has to be one of the most austere songs ever committed to vinyl. It’s a big, scary and breathtaking track which releases a lot of energy and emotion with its pumping rail beat and panning effects. As far as Kraftwerk songs go, this certainly cuts the mustard in an evocative and grandiose way. At some points during the hypnotic journey, one actually feels part of the locomotive, travelling through the dead of night and observing other giant like steam engines pass by. At one point they meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie in Düsseldorf city which is a nice return compliment to the patronage which the thin white duke would give Kraftwerk during this time.

‘Trans-Europe Express’ is a colossal monster of a track and one which sounds incredible when Kraftwerk perform it live. In a venue setting, the beat hits you like a punch in the guts and together with the visual accompaniment, takes you to a remarkable level. The 2005 world tour featured the track together with ‘Metal on Metal’ as a curtain closer to the first set. Inspiring such pale imitators as Depeche Mode and later version of SPK, but some good ‘uns (Neubauten and Test Department), ‘Metal on Metal’ is the continuation of the Trans Europe Express track through a more industrial landscape. The locomotive enters a world of foundaries, sheet metal manufacturers and primary industry and invents techno music and hard beat along the way. Indeed, ‘Metal on Metal’ predates many industrial bands and metal bashers by near on 15 years. The track continues on before the train grinds to a slow halt with screeching brakes.

The homage to ‘Franz Schubert’ is an incredibly beautiful composition displaying the classical qualities of Kraftwerk and returning to the opening themes of old Europe. The breathtaking song fades in and sweeps you off your feet with its mood and great arrangement. It’s a laidback track which compliments the previous tracks perfectly and one which seems to become more beautiful on repeated listens. It rounds off the album perfectly when the ‘Endless Endless’ refrain enters the listening ears with the robotic endless chant, which lasts nearly a minute to end this brilliant record.

In his somewhat self congratulory book ‘I was a Robot’, ex member Wolfgang Flür explains how Trans-Europe Express was born out of a meeting meal at Le Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare De Lyons in Paris between Hütter, Schneider and the French journalist Paul Alessandrini. What a meeting it was to prove – a seminal point in time for things to come. The amount of musicians and bands which have been influenced by Trans-Europe Express is too numerous to mention but what is worth mentioning is that this release is one of the only records ever to influence black as well as white music based culture. For all the industrial European bands and techno DJ’s, Trans-Europe Express was equally important to the development of house and garage music.

In a world where most electronic music is disposable or at best influential for a year or so, Kraftwerk continue to influence musical genres and electronic worlds without any sign of their past work sounding dated, contrived or irrelevant. Nobody in the field of electronic music has surpassed their brilliance for combining melody and melancholy with minimalism and mechanism. In my view, Kraftwerk have entered the world of classical music and their compositions will shine brighter as the years roll on.

Reviews Index