Review Summary: The great journey forward.
Although 1974’s Autobahn
was the moment when the critics and hipsters started taking true notice of the German pioneers’ undeniable innovation in modern music, its second follow-up album, Trans-Europe Express
, was when their artistic potential became matched with a genuine level of commercial accessibility. Still not the most accessible record in Krafty’s bag (see: The Man-Machine
(1978) and Computer World
was perhaps their first, nonetheless, not counting the brutally edited single mix of ‘Autobahn’. Either way it makes for a slightly less compelling, but arguably more instantly exciting, entry point to the vital groups’ work.
Beginning with a sprightly, repetitive synth line before a gurgled, steady dance beat kicks in behind sparse, speech-like vocal lines (mainly uttering the song title), ‘Europe Endless’ opens the disc on an accomplished, bright and classic note. The set takes a turn for the dark, with the more introverted and cynical offerings of its next two tracks – ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ and ‘Showroom Dummies’. The former-most starts with a jarring, blippy keyboard effect, which fluctuates and reoccurs throughout, behind a slightly eerie, horror-like beat and quietly melodic vocals, echoing the hook “even the greatest stars/discover themselves in the looking glass” - the section between “stars” and “in the looking glass” evolving into evermore cynical phrases each time the chorus returns. ‘Showroom Dummies’ is more of the same doomy dance goodness – slightly haunted synth flickers and pessimistic lyrics.
truly comes into its own upon side two, however, where its title-track blows electronic music into a whole new field of influential. While ‘Autobahn’ beats the aforementioned in age, ‘Trans-Europe Express’ fights back with a much more commercial and catchy slant. Its choppy rhythm evokes the moving parts of a railway train, while synths creep in - that iconic rising hook which drags out the highest note before collapsing; not to mention the second hooky electro effect – a gargled, nervy high-pitched keyboard whirl – one which found its way onto Afrika Bambaataa’s pioneering, 1982 hip-hop single ‘Planet Rock’, a single which influenced an entire new genre through its own influence of another.
The remainder of the cuts blend in with the title-track’s melody, presenting slight differences that sound more like progressed versions of the same song rather than separate entities, ultimately closing a disc which took the promise of earlier innovations to a new accessible peak, and influenced perhaps just as much because of it. As unlikely as the idea of a bunch of Kraut-rocking Germans - in nerd-chic suits, with their thick glasses and rigid, motoric beats - influencing the hip-hop, dance and synth-pop of the following decade is, the fact still remains: that’s what actually
happened. You can’t argue with the truth much in the same way you can’t argue with the sheer amount of influence this record – not to mention its 1977 release date, i.e. at punk’s peak – had on what came next in music. Post-punk, new wave, hip hop, techno, industrial… – they all owe a debt to this seminal work and so does any person who calls himself a serious fan of any of the aforementioned genres. That likely means you
in other words, so get your train ticket and take a journey to where it all came to life.