CD Comments – Trans Europa Express



(Image from Amazon, used for review purposes only.)

Kraftwerk: Trans Europa Express (Kling Klang Studios, 1977)
While Computer World came out 4 years after Trans Europe (or, Europa) Express, it sounds much more primitive and concept-focused than its earlier brother. TEE does have a connecting theme, as does CW, but it’s a bit more relaxed here – technology and transportation. The lead vocals are sung, rather than simply spoken, on several of the songs (the primary exception being The Hall of Mirrors). There’s real music, with harmonies and melodies, on Europe Endless and Franz Schubert. The instruments are still electronic, but they sound normal, along the lines of electric guitars, clavichords, etc. There are a few places where we get squarewave boops and beeps, or frequency filter sweeps, but they don’t dominate the songs as much as with CW.

The lyrics are a mix of simple repeated phrases and more story-based collections. The Hall of Mirrors talks about an actor that sees himself in a mirror and eventually gets lost in his own reflection, combining spoken word with rudimentary singing. Showroom Dummies is as close to a fully-sung song as we’re going to get with Kraftwerk.

Trans Europe Express is one of the exceptions to the non-electronic sound theme of the rest of the album, featuring a lot of squarewave instruments, frequency sweeping, sequencing, ADSR amplitude envelopes, and excessive vocoding. Metal on Metal is a karaoke version of TEE, with the addition of reverb and more metallic effects. MoM segues into Abzug, with a similar rhythm, but with the return of the short clavichord-like morse code effect plus the “Trans Europe Express” lyrics. Franz Schubert is a classical concert piece that’s rather dream-inducing, with note glides, echo, panning, and slow attack envelopes. FS turns into Endless Endless, with a simple vocoder effect on the phrase “Endless Endless”.

TEE is kind of a short album, at 45 minutes for 7 songs (Endless Endless is only 57 seconds long), but the Trans Europe Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug trio works out to about 13 minutes of listenable electronica. From the viewpoint of a student of synth music, TEE is a good look at one approach to building synthesizers into the song, rather than the other way around. With the exception of Hall of Mirrors, it’s also a good album to listen to as background noise when you’re working on something else (unlike CW, which I find more distracting).

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