1977 EMI (Originally on Kling Klang Records)
German electronic four-piece Kraftwerk’s sixth studio album really is a tour-de-force. From start to finish it is an engrossing musical and artistic experience – perhaps one that is unrivalled by any electronic act since.
It begins, with Europa Endlos, as a futuristic symphony layering melodies and textures into a rich web of warm sounds, and then drags you down into the inky depths of Speigelsaal and Shaufensterpuppen which revel in sepulchral echoes and unrelenting darkness.
Then we come to the real masterpiece: the trilogy of songs Trans Europa Express, Metal Auf Metal, and Abzug. This section of the record really brings to the fore Kraftwerk’s ability to intricate sound-scapes and inhuman coldness; it takes centre-stage as it grabs the listener and pulls them along for a long and unsettling ride, but somehow at the end of it all you feel better for it. I must say, however, that, at around thirteen and a half minutes, the group’s obsession with precision and repetition can start to wear you down. The composition leaves the listener with no room to breathe and, in my opinion, it could definitely be a little bit shorter.
After that we move back into the warmth with Franz Shubert and Endlos Endlos which nicely round off the album. Also we see a wonderful bit of artistic cleverness with the final track being full of reoccurring musical motifs which allow it to loop perfectly back into the beginning of the album.
This record really is an intellectual effort and I would not recommend it unless you have both the time and the inclination to sit down and listen to it beginning to end. There is just too much to be missed if it’s played out of order and it’s just too unnervingly inhuman to be played as background music.
To sum up I would say that Trans Europa Express is a brilliant record, but I think that its complexity is, in some ways, a double-edged sword. Music should not be a task to listen to, but credit must be given for such an intricately planned and flawlessly executed piece of work.
My kudos to the Kaisers of Krautrock.
I have listened only to this album in its original German. An English version was also released, but, as I haven’t heard it, I can’t speak to how good it is. Although, my understanding is that the two versions are more or less the same.
One of the sparsely dark stand-out tracks from 1977’s Trans Europa Express