1969 conjures up some of the most vivid images of human life and achievement from throughout the 20th century. Although every year has had its slice in the pie of notoriety, no other year comes close to the impact that 1969 had, and certainly not on such a wide scale. Thoughts of hippie concerts such as Woodstock, the death of Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland, the last public performance by The Beatles and the start of The Sesame Street are all conjured. Yet above it all came a feat that signified man at his greatest, the Apollo 11 spaceflight. At a time when astrology was at the forefront of humankinds thoughts, the music industry followed suit. Sweeping spacey psychedelic sounds took over the entire world, with bands like Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Tangerine Dream blowing the minds of young sci-fi nerds. One month after the Apollo 11 spaceflight, Tangerine Dream recorded their first album, Electric Meditation
and did not stop there, releasing album after album of astonishing sci-fi landscapes.
30 years later, as mans attention was shifting more and more from the desolate moon to new horizons, Tangerine Dream once again followed suit. Mars Polaris
almost describes its intent and its sound through the cover art and album title. To the fans of the early Tangerine Dream work, Mars Polaris
will undoubtedly be one of their favourite modern Tangerine Dream albums. Yet Mars Polaris
is far from a return to their old epic avant-garde sound. In early Tangerine Dream albums, each song would pave its own path through a new mystical world, with no incessant rhythm or purpose, the album would flow through a myriad of emotions, sights and sounds. In Mars Polaris
, each song feels more individual, as if each song has a set plot from the beginning. To a more modern audience, the script-like approach to composing certainly makes more sense than mentally challenging 20 minute cryptic pieces of art.
To some the percussion within Mars Polaris
will contradict the flowing wavy moog soundscapes, yet unlike in some Tangerine Dream albums from the 80s and 90s, Mars Polaris
does not focus entirely on a strong driving rhythm, but rather uses it to link together segments of lunar beauty. Perhaps the best example of this is in Outland (The Colony)
where a hurried and vibrating percussion drives the song past sights of majestic synthesized beauty. The contrast of long-extended synthesizer notes and frantic percussion works nicely to create the image of a mechanic object amongst a world of natural beauty, a lone human structure on the desolate planet of Mars. It is this mechanical aspect that makes up the ugliest part of the album. In Tangerine Dreams past it has often been their Achilles heel, and sadly Mars Polaris
falls prey to it too often. Although the percussion cannot be solely blamed, it certainly does contribute to a lack of emotion throughout the album. The pinnacles of emotion appear and disappear quickly, as if teasing the listener into wanting more. They are there, and for observant listeners, provide great reward.
For a Tangerine Dream album to stand out amongst their 100+ album discography, the textures need to stand out just as vividly. Unfortunately with Mars Polaris
, much of the content within falls into doldrums. Songs like Tharsis Maneuver
and Deep Space Cruiser
feature moments of sonic pleasure, yet these moments are fleeting and are trapped underneath a torrent of dull synthesized sounds. For many listeners, this will be a turn off, hard to overcome. But for the dedicated listener, the fleeting moments of electronic oneness will make Mars Polaris
an album worthy of the name Tangerine Dream.
It must be taken into consideration when comparing their early space influenced material with Mars Polaris
, that they were at the cutting edge of technology in the 70s, exploring new dimensions of electronic sound. Mars Polaris
does not feel worthy of these revolutionary standards, but conforms to the norm. For those that loved the pioneering sound of 70s electronic movement, Mars Polaris
contradicts this totally with rehashed sounds and rehashed ideas. The percussion follows the path of previous Tangerine Dream for the most part and the spacey synthesized soundscapes in Mars Polaris
sound far too generic. Sadly, Mars Polaris
falls into the dull category of average. Moments of sheer pleasure prevent this album from falling below average, as does the unique structuring of each song (as plot-driven as it may be). It would be hard to recommend this album to anything other than an ardent Tangerine Dream fan, or a dedicated electronic elitist: Which is sad, because this album promised to be so much, yet failed like so many other Tangerine Dream albums from the 90s.