Trans-Europe Express



June 16th, 2005 | 72 replies

Release Date: 1977 | Tracklist

Kraftwerk - Trans-Europa Express
Released 1977.
Capitol Records.
In 1974, Kraftwerk changed the world. That is an indisputable fact. They did it in more ways than one, too. Autobahn, released in that year, was Year Zero - the first electronica album. Though it wasn't quite a bolt out of the blue - Can and Silver Apples had hinted at an electronic form of popular music, and Karlheinz Stockhausen had been experimenting with tape manipulation back in the 1920s - it was still the Giant Leap Forward the genre needed, in the same way that Revolver caused a chasm that resulted in 'rock' and 'pop' being two different entities. Unless you see hip-hop as being entirely distinct from electronica, this was the last truly major breakthrough for music. Everything since has just rehashed what we already had - Autobahn was truly new. (And if you do consider hip-hop seperate, then just remember how important Afrika Bambaataa's 'Planet Rock' was, and remember it was based almost entirely on a sample taken from this album's title track.)

Not just that, but Autobahn was a big event for Germany. All the members of the Krautrock movement had been fighting an uphill battle for years, trying to restore culture to a Germany that had been ravaged by Hitler's actions in World War II, and was still suffering. Autobahn's title track, albiet in a severley edited form, was the first ever German language hit single on the Billboard charts. All of a sudden, Germany was the epicentre of an exciting cultural event, and the world was taking notice. It was just what the country needed.

Although Autobahn was indubitably their most important work to the outside world, Trans-Europa Express was a massive album for Kraftwerk themselves. The follow-up to Autobahn, Radio-Aktivit"t, had been met with slight bemusement and vastly reduced success. Thus, Trans-Europa Express was a make or break record. The pressure was on, and so, Kraftwerk had to respond. They did so in a number of ways.

Like all post-Autobahn Kraftwerk records, Trans Europa Express has a unifying theme across all its tracks. Actually, that's not strictly true - Trans Europa Express has two. The first, and most obvious, is a celebration of Europe. Putting the album in context, it's easy to see why they did that - they were, after all, the most famous musicians from a country still stereotyped and stigmatized by large portions of the rest of Europe. Symbolically, they were making the first move to reconcile the differences. They tempered this with an undercurrent of train travel ("Metall Auf Metall", for instance, literally refers to the sound of metal on metal made by a train on its tracks), which is a clear homage to Autobahn. The other concept is one of identity, noted on "Spiegelsaal (Halls Of Mirrors)" and "Schaufensterpuppen (Showroom Dummies)" - the latter the album's biggest hit, and something of a thematic precursor to their smash "The Model".

The fact that Kraftwerk use identity as a concept may seem slightly strange, but to me, it makes sense. Radio-Aktivit"t had been a departure for Kraftwerk, being as it was the first of their releases to be composed entirely of short, easily digestable songs. It was also their first totally non-Krautrock album - almost all the signs of that movement had disappeared. It was a very conscious, very deliberate move - note how the band now refuse to acknowledge that they released anything before Autobahn, when it was in fact their 4th album. Seemingly, Kraftwerk were having a few problems with their own identity. Trans-Europa Express found them settling comfortably into their newly constructed identity. Die Mensch-Maschine would, of course, see them inverting, mocking, deconstructing, and reinventing that identity, but that's another story.

The music here is delivered with a great confidence, suggesting that either Kraftwerk were not intimidated by the pressure, or that they were revelling in their new way of working. Possibly, both. They sound more comfortable in their own skins than on Radio-Aktivit"t, that's for sure, and even moreso than Autobahn.

Some - AMG, notaby - have singled Trans-Europa Express out as the ultimate Kraftwerk record. Ultimately, I disagree. Both Autobahn and Die Mensch-Maschine are better records than this, for my money. Not to mention, that I find this to be a record that either needs a lot of attention on the part of the listener, or it needs them to have previous familiarity with Kraftwerk's style. It's nowhere near as accessible as either of the following two records, Die Mensch-Maschine and Computerwelt. Kraftwerk fans should definitely pick this up, but newcomers are advised to approach with care, or look elsewhere in their catalogue first. Still, maybe I'm being oevrly critical here. Trans-Europa Express is a great album that teems with life despite its robotic origins, and sounds as fresh today as it did in 1977.

Within The Genre - 4.5/5
Outside The Genre - 4/5

Recommended Downloads -

Europa Endlos (Europe Endless)

Nearly ten minutes in length, it musically replicates the awe and wonder of discovering new land and visiting foreign countries almost perfectly. While large portions of this album are heavy, this sits at the opposite end of the spectrum; it's casual, upbeat, and catchy. The main themes are repeated several times, and reprised later in the album's closer, Endlos Endlos.

Franz Schubert
As part of their celebration of Europe, Kraftwerk present this tribute to one of the continent's finest composers. It's an impressive work that uses a completely electronic texture to imitate a string quartet. While still recognisably Kraftwerk-esque, it's something of an anomoly in their oeuvre. It's totally instrumental, and if I'm being honest, it works better as background music than as something to listen to intently, but it's possibly the most beautiful thing the group ever did. If you've ever wondered why people always say that Kraftwerk were masters of locating the soul at the heart of the machine, check this out.

Schaufensterpuppen (Showroom Dummies)
The album's most famous track, and it's easy to see why. This is Kraftwerk operating at their very peak. A funky, instantly dancable rhythm is offset with ghostly, spectral melodies that operate the way you might expect backing vocals or strings to in an acoustic composition. The vocal is delivered in a manner that suggests barking rather than singing, the raspy power of which suggests that the oft-repeated hook ('We are showroom dummies!' in the English version) is a threat. I would be very surprised if Trent Reznor, and any number of similar artists, had never heard this.

Further Listening
Kraftwerk - The Man-Machine
Silver Apples - Silver Apples
Afrika Bambaataa - Planet Rock
The Human League - Dare!

Oh, and a note. Kraftwerk themselves have insisted that their music is inspired first and foremost by the phonetics of the German language, and as a result, a lot of my fellow Kraftwerk obsessives will insist that their records sound better in German. This is usually rubbish. Here, it's true. It's worth hearing in English too, but I listen to the German version of this far more than the translated English version.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
(Hail to the thief)
June 17th 2005


I used to think Kraftwerk was just a sort of funny, silly, fun band to listen to that was really influential

(my parents played the mix for me when i was like 5)
and until recently i never understood the significance

but now i actually am growing to think that their music is actually really good and not just a joke.

minimum - maximum is excellent

June 17th 2005


So you finally got your Kraftwerk review Iai... ;)

Good review, as always :thumb:

May 7th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

This is one of my favourite albums, I used to listen to techno and stuff when I was younger, this really doesnt fit too well in the rest of my music collection.

November 13th 2006


This is.... interesting. Great review, though.

July 9th 2009


the first electronica album.

This claim seems a tad dubious. You did already mention Silver Apples strangely, their work wasn't so much a hint as a bold use of electronics. Artists such as Perrey & Kingsley were experimenting with analogue electronics with the moog synthesiser as well, The In Sound From The Way Out! in 1966 is arguably the first electronic music album. Disregarding the immeasurable influence the group clearly had I don't know what disqualifies these albums and makes Kraftwerk's release the "real" first whether they invented synth pop/electro or whatever people want to call it. Also, I don't know how many times electronic music purists have attempted to belt people over the head for using the term electronica, it doesn't bother me so much but it still amuses me.


Minor gripes, however. This is a good album and I find it very enjoyable.

January 4th 2010


This album is awesome. Has anyone seen them live?

August 9th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

showroom dummies still sounds extremely frightening today, especially the german version. this album is just a classic, literally no other description for it. i name 4 kraftwerk albums 5/5, this is probably 6/5 to be fair. that good.

Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2010


great album

May 8th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0

shit is so classic

September 1st 2011


Album Rating: 5.0

Every time Europa Endloss hits, I get shivers down my spine. So brilliant.

Also, it's the only Kraftwerk album I know, and it did not find it inaccesible at all really.

September 1st 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

probably my favorite Kraftwerk album

Staff Reviewer
March 28th 2012


The previous is great. Still need to check this one out.

March 28th 2012


I've only heard a little by them. I shall try some more.

May 2nd 2012


listening to this for the first time

so fucking good

February 17th 2015


Album Rating: 4.0

Life is timeless / Europe endless

February 17th 2015


Europa Endlos

February 17th 2015


hard to believe this was written a decade ago

July 16th 2015


Album Rating: 5.0

Too low of a rating.

September 11th 2015


goooood this rules im in a trance

January 11th 2016


Album Rating: 2.5

Not my thing, but I liked how obviously this influenced stuff or something.

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