With the addition of keyboardist Johannes Schmoelling, Tangerine Dream adopted a more melodic and accessible sound on Tangram. The fluidity of movement and integral nature of the sequencer patterns are carry-overs from Force Majeure, but Schmoelling’s presence adds an element of delicacy and intimacy that stands in marked contrast to the alien and foreboding landscapes of the previous decade. The title track takes its name from a Chinese puzzle that requires a square to be divided into five triangles, a smaller square and a rhomboid, which are then shifted to create different shapes. This subject is ideally suited to the band’s often sinuous arrangements, allowing Edgar Froese and Schmoelling to move their music around Christopher Franke’s sequencers and resolve various musical “problems.” Despite many familiar elements — disembodied voices that recall Carmina Burana, percussive echoes that serve as segues to new sections, flute-like keyboards — Tangram represents a further shift away from progressive rock toward the economically evocative language more recently popularized by Kraftwerk and Vangelis. Froese’s guitar eschews the heroics of past efforts for a screechier style that will sound familiar to fans of Adrian Belew. Sets 1 and 2 move with the buoyancy and technical sheen first revealed on “Force Majeure,” though they never reach its sublime heights, instead aspiring to loveliness and grandeur (a further link to Vangelis, whose fans will discover in Tangram an accessible entry point). Those who thought their earlier work too ethereal may find Tangram the most succinct and substantial work in their catalog.
As a rule of thumb, mine’s decidedly pointed down on the TD soundtracks. Their music is a natural for film, especially in concert with a stylish director like Michael Mann, but a band that makes brilliant tone poems shouldn’t be broken in pieces. In the case of “Igneous,” that’s exactly what happens: the second half of Force Majeure’s “Thru Metamorphic Rocks” is pressed into service again. Which isn’t to say that TD’s fans won’t want to catch Thief. Anyone who toiled through Brian Eno’s Music For Films, for example, will find tracks like “Trap Feeling” more hospitable. And electronic music fans are a curious lot by nature, apt to find morsels of mind candy in even the most arid compositions. If, in my cynical mindset, “Beach Theme” sounds like an electronic version of “Freebird,” to your open mind it might sound like an heroic overture. And should you hear in the digital blips and buzzes of “Burning Bar” a new lexicon of electronica, far be it from me to speak against it. However, there are dozens of proper TD albums where richer discoveries await you and several soundtracks besides (Sorcerer, The Keep) that are better. Of minor interest to those of us who have nothing better to do than pore over the poor relations in TD’s discography, the US and UK versions of this soundtrack differ slightly. In the UK, a remixed version of “Beach Theme” (entitled “Beach Scene”) appears, while the closing “Confrontation” (written and performed by Craig Safan) does not. Safan, incidentally, does a pretty good David Gilmour impersonation, which initially had me thinking that Froese had caught fire.
Exit is a departure from the side-long tone poems of the past. The six songs are self contained, largely static, featuring sampled sounds from Schmoelling while Franke’s sequencer patterns (which propelled their earlier work) are audibly absent. Because Exit’s individual achievements don’t serve a greater whole, it doesn’t feel like the grand artistic statement of Force Majeure. Instead, Exit feels like a conscious movement toward krautrock, especially on “Choronzon.” But behind the cool exterior, it’s the same dark Dream at work. Choronzon is actually the name of a demon cited in both Enochian magic and the writings of Aleister Crowley (thank you, Wikipedia). “Pilots of the purple twilight” is lifted from Tennyson’s forward-looking “Locksley Hall.” Remote viewing refers to out-of-body observation. If this is robot music, it’s of a mystic order on an altogether different plane than Kraftwerk. The more I listen to Exit and slip into miniature worlds like “Remote Viewing” and “Exit,” the more I’m convinced the Dream isn’t over yet. However, parsing their magic into little pieces does result in a few dry spells, such as “Pilots of the Purple Twilight” and “Network 23.” These two songs feel like electronic placeholders to me, stagnant observations in a universe where swift-running currents and oases of beauty were once the norm. In describing their earlier music, one had to look for new words in new worlds. Exit is a series of tangible dreams, interesting but also able to be placed on the critical scales and quantified. Ultimately, the magical outweighs the mundane, and Tangerine Dream emerges from Exit intact as digital champions. Not completely unscathed, but intact.
Kronomyth 16.0: DREAMWERKS. The opening minutes of “Mojave Plan” sound like the score to an imaginary horror movie. It’s a terrifying introduction to what turns out to be a remarkably accessible album of streamlined (by TD’s usual standards) synthesizer music. White Eagle has never been one of my favorite TD albums for the reason that it seems superficial; all of the action and melody take place on the surface, without the deep undercurrents that ran through works like Phaedra and Force Majeure. In fact, the music isn’t that much different from what Kraftwerk, Ultravox and other non-symphonic electronic bands (I’ve always viewed the early TD albums as tone poems) were making at the time. The influence of Johannes Schmoelling (sounds like “bowling”) seems more pronounced on this album, since I usually credit him with the smattering of strange and decidedly modern sounds that drift in and out of the music. The herky-jerky “Midnight In Tula” (shades of Devo) is especially atypical for a band that until recently seemed as predictable as rain in April. Over the years, I’ve returned to White Eagle often as a vacation from some of their heavier works. Fans of the Dream’s classic period may not view White Eagle as an essential purchase (or much of anything after 1980), but those more interested in stimulation than meditation will appreciate the Schmoelling years, as the band developed a certain compactness coupled with fresh sounds that suit shorter attention spans (the side-long “Mojave Plan” actually functions as four separate songs). I own the 1994 definitive edition remaster and it sounds fantastic; the liner notes are on the skimpy side, but the disc is shiny and blue, which counts for something.
Kronomyth 21.0: SWIMPHONY. Without missing an electronic beat, Froese and Franke replaced Johannes Schmoelling with Paul Haslinger and returned to the path of the compact, lyrical Le Parc for an album of aquatic-themed instrumentals. The side-long “Song of the Whale” (and, yes, there are more cringeworthy titles coming) initially sounds like the work of Alan Parsons Project, which is to say Pink Floyd Lite. Unlike recent albums, which had become more rhythmically informed, Underwater Sunlight is an amorphous album. In TD’s waterworld, songs drift in and out, heavy sequencer patterns are supplanted by shimmering sounds and melodies abound. Those whose tastes turn toward the light side of electronica (APP et al) may view Underwater Sunlight as one of the band’s brightest efforts to date. The dark sonic riders among us may likewise be less enamored of TD’s softening musical stance. Haslinger’s tenure with the group did mark a shift toward more melodic and accessible music, although the band was already moving in that direction with Le Parc. I’ve defended this album in the past, but this morning I’m more inclined to tell you to follow a different Dream. If you’re interested in the Haslinger Years, pick up Optical Race and then set your sights on something else. The second half of the 80s marked a new age, and I miss the dark ages. Over the years, “Song of the Whale,” “Dolphin Dance” (I warned you, didn’t I?) and “Underwater Twilight” have been admitted into the “best” of Tangerine Dream on various occasions, but honestly what Tangerine Dream song hasn’t appeared on a compilation at one point or another? If you found the earlier albums too difficult, then by all means dive into Underwater Sunlight. You’ll forgive me if I don’t go in the water with you, having recently feasted on heavier fare.
The artistry of William Blake is his blending of light and dark, good and evil, in arriving at the big existential picture. So it comes as something of a surprise that the music of Tyger, which combines Blake’s poems (sung by Jocelyn B. Smith) with the electronics of Tangerine Dream, is so genteel. After all, Blake’s work was lurid, often diabolical in intent, and TD has released some diabolical music in its day, but not here. Both the songs and the instrumentals are closer in scope and effect to the subsequent Optical Race, where Paul Haslinger (like Johannes Schmoelling before him) helped focus the band’s vision and streamline their sound. Compared to Cyclone (the last time TD used intelligible vocals), Tyger is far less frightening. Smith’s voice is strong and direct, taking Blake’s lyrics at face value. Behind her voice, crouching as polite embellishment, is the music of Tangerine Dream. On the opening “Tyger,” the trio sound most like Cluster, playing with a light hand while the dark implications of Blake’s poem cast their shadow over the listener’s mind. “London” is moodier, spoken/sung by Smith while TD pluck their electronic lyres in obeisance. This and “Smile” could be seen as electronic pop poetry, refined in its execution. You can’t argue that TD are rough handlers of Blake’s artistry; in fact they may be too careful not to bruise the delicate brutality of the poet/artist’s inner eye. It would seem that the project gave the band pause to refine their own artistry, scripting the music carefully where before charges of improvisational composition might have held. Perhaps it’s the influence of Haslinger, but an instrumental like “Alchemy of the Heart” evokes modern-day classical music, self-contained and linear in development. The compact disc adds “21st Century Common Man,” again a harbinger of Optical Race that likewise looks back to the economical approach of Tangram and Force Majeure. (The CD actually breaks out as six tracks rather than five, from which one might assume that the bonus track is divided into two distinct parts.) While Tyger is an interesting animal in the Tangerine zoo, it’s far from ferocious. Like subsequent collaborations with Chi Coltrane, this is an equal alliance of popular sound and artistic vision. Yes, it is ambitious, but also restrained, even understated. The Tangerine Dream of ten years’ past would have approached this differently, adopting the artistry of Blake as a launching point rather than his poetry, but what remains is still eminently intelligent. I’d follow Optical Race first among the Haslinger-era recordings, but Tyger is certainly worth stalking in your travels.
Optical Race simply sparkles. The departure of Chris Franke hardly boded well for the band, but Edgar Froese and Paul Haslinger didn’t miss a beat, streamlining their sound and placing rich melodies at the fore of their songcraft. Released on Private Music, a new age label owned by TD alumnus Peter Baumann, Optical Race does invite comparison to the economically evocative sound first unveiled on Force Majeure and Tangram. For this reason, some critics have called Optical Race a return to form, when in fact it’s a case of looking ahead to new horizons. Writing effective music in small packets required Froese and Haslinger to rethink their approach; the results are swift-coursing and exuberant songs that represent snapshots rather than sonic murals. “Marakesh” captures the Eastern exoticism and bustle of a Moroccan city, “Sun Gate” and “Ghazal (Love Song)” are declarations of the heart, “Turning Off The Wheel” is a circular piece not so different from White Eagle’s “Convention of the 24.” Longtime fans may chafe a bit at the triteness of the arrangements; “Optical Race” is a celebratory song better suited to Patrick Moraz than the dark Teutonic masters, while “Cat Scan” and “Twin Soul Tribe” are no better than TD’s standalone soundtrack bits. In the end, however, the less impressive numbers are overshadowed by memorable vignettes like “The Midnight Trail” and “Atlas Eyes.” When I’m in an uncharitable mood, I’ve been known to grumble that Optical Race is no more than new age product, but generally I walk away from this disc refreshed and rededicated to TD as a constant source of surprises. It might well be Paul Haslinger’s finest hour (or finest 54 minutes anyway) as a member of Tangerine Dream. Far from the crippling blow it could have been, Franke’s departure seemingly freed Froese and Haslinger to pursue a different course that led to one of TD’s most rewarding efforts from the ‘80s.
Beginning with Optical Race, Tangerine Dream began packaging its music in clean five-minute packets that featured the same core components: melody, rhythm, programmed pattern and sometimes a solo of guitar or saxophone. It was a different phase than the synthesizer meditations of the ‘70s and the socially conscious electronica of the ‘80s, though no less commercial. Tangerine Dream has always played to the tastes of the times as much as modern taste has followed Tangerine Dream. The addition of Edgar’s son, Jerome Froese, also introduced a new generation and new ideas influenced more by the post-Kraftwerk club scene than Pink Floyd. Jerome’s hand isn’t so strongly felt on Melrose (it would become evident on later works like Goblin’s Club), and in many ways the album is simply a continuation of Optical Race. “Rolling Down Cahuenga,” “Dolls in the Shadow,” “Melrose” and “Three Bikes in the Sky” are as representative of what was right with this era as anything (why “Electric Lion” was selected for the subsequent Private Music compilation is beyond me). However, I had the sense that the early albums were each important statements (Phaedra, Force Majeure, Tangram), the pursuit of a muse over circuits and currents. Melrose is the pursuit of product: very good product held to high standards, but without the element of risk that made the early Dream so exciting. With everything converted into bits and bytes, the old analog muse is bypassed and with her the happy accidents of chance. Melrose is musical super-realism, and fans who peered into the shadows of Phaedra looking for monsters may find this phase of the Dream too brightly illumined for such wild speculation. That said, if anyone can survive in a purely digital domain, it’s Tangerine Dream.
A1. Melrose (5:44)
A2. Three Bikes In The Sky (5:58)
A3. Dolls In The Shadow (5:10)
A4. Yucatan (5:16)
A5. Electric Lion (8:13)
B1. Rolling Down Cahuenga (6:43)
B2. Art of Vision (5:30)
B3. Desert Train (10:17)
B4. Cool At Heart (6:09)
All songs composed by Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger & Jerome Froese.
Edgar Froese (keyboards, lead-guitar, rhythm guitar), Jerome Froese (keyboards, lead-guitar), Paul Haslinger (keyboards) with Hubert Waldner (sax on A1). Produced by Edgar Froese; engineered by Edgar Froese, Jerome Froese and Paul Haslinger.
Photography by Jim Rakete. Design by Kurt De Munbrun.
Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc in September 1990 in Germany and the UK (Private Music, 211/261 105) and the US (Private Music, 2078-2/4) and in 1991 in Japan (BMG, BVCP-103) with innersleeve; reached #13 on US Top New Age Albums chart in 1991.
Tangerine Dream recorded four works for Peter Baumann’s Private Music label between the years 1988 and 1990. The Private Music of Tangerine Dream distills these four works into a single disc, adding two “new” tracks at the end. Listeners who enjoy late period TD are likely to enjoy this sampler, while earlier fans will no doubt squirm through the saxophone solo on “Long Island Sunset” and the faux fretless bass on “Electric Lion.” While these songs represent a different chapter than the band’s amorphous sound paintings and sequencer-driven journeys of the ‘70s, too much is made of their “de-evolution” into new age music. As early as Exit, Tangerine Dream began to streamline their music, incorporating heavier beats and coursing melodies while cutting the track time considerably. The music on Melrose, Lily on the Beach and Optical Race is the present result of that refinement, a way station along the path that TD set out on years ago. Traces of the band’s former masterworks can be found in “Three Bikes In The Sky,” “After The Call,” and “Dolls In The Shadow” if you listen. Yet the fact remains that this compilation is best suited to listeners approaching TD from the new age side of the equation rather than musical adventurers looking to do a pulse check on their old friends. Despite some criticism to the contrary, the two unreleased tracks (“Roaring of the Bliss” and the unfortunately named “Beaver Town”) are well worth hearing; they hardly shed any new light on the band, but they do provide an electric ending to this sometimes humid collection.
The forecast is hot, hazy and humid: hot guitar solos from Zlatko Perica, hazy borders between songs and the humid atmosphere that you’d expect from New Age (even caffeinated New Age like this). 220 Volt Live is the audio cousin to the concert video Three Phase, which documented TD’s 1992 North American tour. As with most of their live albums, the songs on 220 Volt Live are new compositions (“Oriental Haze” had appeared earlier on the Rockoon single). Rather than stop between songs, TD lets them flow into one another, a synergy of sound that creates two large tone poems on each side of the cassette (although “Treasure of Innocence” is abruptly tacked on to side one to balance things out). Critiquing this without seeing Three Phase is like reviewing a film with your hands cupped over your ears, so bear in mind that this applies only to the audio portion of the event. But 220 Volt Live isn’t a must-own listening experience, despite some fine moments. Perica and Linda Spa (sax/keyboards) add spice to Tangerine Dream even as the Froeses putter along on auto-cruise. Perhaps it’s the prolific nature of their genius at work against them. I can afford to pick and choose from so many things in the TD garden, and both Turn of the Tides and Goblins’ Club seem riper and sweeter works to me. If you’ve already purchased these, digested them, and crave something more from the same period, then by all means plug into 220 Volt Live. It’s not as thorny as those works, remembering for the moment that they had a large audience to please, but it’s no bunch of wilted posies either. There are some dark turns that recall their earlier work, plenty of mind-candy moments strewn along the way, invigorating rhythms and inspiring melodies. However, it’s not the best introduction to this period, vanilla to Tournado’s rocky road, though in both cases the production is so clean as to render the live tag moot. And, yes, that’s a version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” at the end, which is a real showstopper.