[Review] Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974)

Noting the success of Tubular Bells, TD release their most accessible album yet and create an international sensation.

Kronomyth 5.0: A musical Theseus statement.

Phaedra was Tangerine Dream’s international breakthrough album. Based not a little on the success of labelmate Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, the Dream’s fifth album found them incorporating rhythmic patterns—pulse might be the better word, since the music didn’t have a traditional beat—and melody into their music. The real achievement of the record, however, is the sophistication with which they were able to conjure electronic and alien sounds. Almost all analog elements had been removed from the music except for the organ (which was a kind of machine) and the flute. Otherwise, the band was able to create a new kind of classical music with nothing but blips, beeps and whooshes.

The band’s sound had evolved at each step, yet there is the sense on the side-long Phaedra that you’re hearing something entirely new. This song marks the beginning of the tunneling journeys that many would associate with “classic” Tangerine Dream. Where their earlier albums felt like sonic sculpture, “Phaedra” is the work of scientists in a controlled laboratory. You (the listener) are still in space, only this time safely encapsulated in a spaceship with modern amenities.

Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. Composed and mostly played by Edgar Froese, this has always struck me as an elegy/lullaby in space. It is the most “musical” song from Tangerine Dream so far, featuring what sounds like an organ run through speed/tone-changing filters. Ten years later, you could probably replicate this sound on a Casio synthesizer with the touch of a button, but at the time this was groundbreaking stuff. Movements of a Visionary continues the journey begun on “Phaedra,” now with a toy-like pattern that makes the connection to Tubular Bells plainer. The album closes with a short piece from Peter Baumann, Sequent C’, that prominently features the flute. It’s a dream-like ending that creates waves of sound, an effect that may have influenced Brian Eno’s Discreet Music and Evening Star.

Tangerine Dream has released dozens (and dozens) of albums over the years, and finding an entry point into their catalog can be daunting, so let me make this easy: Buy Phaedra first. After that, you may want to move forward or backward, depending on how much you like (or don’t like) electronic music. This album strikes a perfect balance between science and sculpture, and adds just enough melody to sweeten their space music. In the constellation of Tangerine Dream, Phaedra is surely their brightest star.

Original LP Version

A1. Phaedra (Chris Franke/Edgar Froese/Peter Baumann) (16:45)
B1. Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares (Edgar Froese) (10:35)
B2. Movements of a Visionary (Chris Franke/Edgar Froese/Peter Baumann) (7:55)
B3. Sequent C’ (Peter Baumann) (2:17)

CD reissue bonus tracks
5. Phaedra (Steven Wilson 2018 stereo remix)
6. Sequent C’ (Steven Wilson 2018 stereo remix)

The Players

Peter Baumann (organ, e-piano, VCS3 synth, flute), Chris Franke (Moog synthesizer, keyboards, VCS3 s.A), Edgar Froese (mellotron, guitar-bass, VCS3 synthi, organ). Produced by Edgar Froese; engineered by Phil Becque.

The Pictures

Cover painting and sleeve design by Edgar Froese.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on February 20, 1974 in Germany (Virgin, 87 761 XOT), the UK and Israel (Virgin, V/VIC 2010), the US (Virgin, VR13-108), Australia (Festival, L 35138), Brazil (Phonogram, 912 4127), Canada (Virgin, V/TCV 2010), France (Virgin, 2933 723), Japan (Virgin, YQ-7021-VR) and Yugoslavia (RTB, LP 55-5533) with gatefold cover; reached #15 on the UK charts and #196 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1976 (1978?) in the UK (Virgin, V 2010) and Japan (VIP-6909) [green background label].
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1977/8 in Canada (Virgin, V 2010) and Italy (Virgin, VIL 12010) with gatefold cover [red/green sides label].
  3. Re-issued on cassette in 1978 in Spain (Virgin, D-57344).
  4. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in March 1984 in the US (Virgin International, VI 2010) and in 1984 in the UK (Virgin, OVED/OVEDC 25) and Italy (Virgin, OVEDK 7025).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1985 in the UK (Virgin, CDV 2010) and the US (Virgin, 90933-2).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Virgin, 86064-2).
  7. Re-released on remastered Definitive Edition compact disc on February 27, 1995 in the UK (Virgin, TAND5) and Germany (EMI, 840 062).
  8. Re-issued on remastered compact disc on July 22, 2004 in Japan (Virgin, VJCP-68667).
  9. Re-released on super audio/super high material compact disc on February 25, 2015 in Japan (Virgin, UIGY-9673).
  10. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on June 14, 2019 in Europe (Virgin/UMC, 774 695-8) with 2 bonus tracks.

1 thought on “[Review] Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974)

  1. I heard Phaedra on a John Peel radio program in the 70s. It was like a breath of fresh air…and it still inspires me all these years later. The record I’d save in Desert Island Discs! ❤

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