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Trans-Europe Express

Capitol 11603
Released: March 1977
Chart Peak: #119
Weeks Charted: 10

Florian SchneiderRalf HutterDebut set for the German electronic band with Capitol is quite different than their mammoth Autobahn set of a year ago. This time, the band is trying to be a bit more commercial, at least as commercial as one can be when working with a pure electronic sound. Divided into a number of short cuts, the LP, which features monotonous yet strangely haunting vocals, is one of those sets that, while repetitious in many spots, is strangely compelling along the lines of Autobahn. All told, this is probably the best album this band has put together for the U.S. market, combining the best of their past hits with material that can be easily programmed. Best cuts: "Radioactivity," "Airwaves," "Antenna," "Transistor," "Ohm Sweet Ohm."

- Billboard, 1977.

Bonus Reviews!

No, I have not shorted out or fallen in love with a cyborg. No, I do not like Kraftwerk's previous craft-work, Radio-Activity, which consists mostly of bleeps. But this shares with Autobahn a simple-minded air of mock-serious fascination with melody and repetition. Plus its textural effects sound like parodies by some cosmic schoolboy of every lush synthesizer surge that's ever stuck in your gullet -- yet also work the way those surges are supposed to work. Plus the cover and sleeve photos are suitable for framing. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

The godfathers, the grandaddies or the Beatles of the genre -- no matter how you put it, these German revolutionists are the seminal electronic band, and some musical gearheads say without them, the category wouldn't exist. This amazingly innovative album from techno's awkward and shiny birth still delights with symphonic soundscapes à la Jarre, great synth loops and driving rhythms -- kids today could learn a lot from these dapper 'bots. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

While Kraftwerk unleashed its machinery mastermind with former albums, Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2, Ralf and Florian, Autobahn (which provided the Top 25 single of the same name), and Radio Activity, the album that changed and charged its way into the hearts of synthboppers such as Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, Gary Numan, Erasure's Vincent Clarke, Ultravox, and countless other future electro craftsmen was Trans-Europe Express.

When Trans-Europe Express was released, it was not only the heyday of punk and disco, but also, in Europe especially, the heyday of Abba! Kraftwerk absorbed all of these influences and combined them with their own technocratic art-rock impulses in a fresh manner that helped obliterate the facade prevalent in seventies arena-rock, that the synthesizer was only for arty purposes. Along with Giorgio Moroder, another German who was experimenting with such techniques at the same time, Kraftwerk helped turn the synthesizer into a pop-making device. Whereas before, their recordings had consisted mostly of a Morse code-like dialogue between Ralf and Florian, on Trans-Europe Express, they'd turned the synthesizers into a total environmental of whooshing sweeping wholeness.

Trans-Europe Express was voted the 56th greatest album of all time in a VH1 poll of over 700 musicians, songwriters, disc jockeys, radio programmers, and critics in 2003.

- Raquel Bruno, VH1's 100 Greatest Albums, 2003.

This German group's sound sought to eliminate the distinction between men and machines. Kraftwerk's robot-synthesizer grooves influenced electrodisco hitmakers, experimental geniuses such as Brian Eno and rappers including Afrika Bambaataa, who lifted the title track for "Planet Rock."

Trans-Europe Express was chosen as the 253rd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

A glistening panorama of elegance and decadence, travel and technology, Trans-Europe Express is a streamlined celebration of Europe's romantic past and shimmering future. The gorgeous rollng vistas of "Europe Endless" bookend the album, while Kraftwerk's often overlooked sense of black humor surfaces on "Showroom Dummies," a wry riposte to critics of their emotionless image. There is also a rare diversion into the macabre on the eerie, darkly comic "Hall Of Mirrors."

During this period, Bowie was one of Kraftwerk's army of famous fans, paying homage on his classic Berlin album "Heroes." Hütter and Schneider returned the favor by namechecking Bowie and Iggy Pop on the title track to Trans-Europe Express, a locomotive whose relentless, piston-pumping rhythm mimics the sound of train wheels on metal rails, with a trance-like intensity.

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With its innovative use of early sequencer technology, Kraftwerk's sixth album helped shape the musical climate that filled the vacuum after punk rock, alerting a new generation of record buyers to electronic music. "Metal on Metal," the panel-beating sister track and "Trans-Europe Express," later became a key influence on hip hop, electro, and industrial music. Most famously, Afrika Bambaataa sampled these beats and that melody with the electro and dance movement to come on his 1982 hip-hop hit, "Planet Rock." Once again, Kraftwerk sounded effortlessly ahead of their time.

- Stephen Dalton, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

Kraftwerk's hypnotic 1974 smash "Autobahn" took machine worship to new heights. One of the first hit singles made enterely with synthesizers, it put listeners on the German highway system of its namesake, where cars whoosh past at superhighspeeds, and, through the magic of the Doppler effect, blur into a symphony of ever-changing sound as they streak by.

In the aftermath of "Autobahn," it was probably inevitable that the German keyboard quartet would progress from cars to more sophisticated machines. Sure enough, this hugely influential follow-up finds Kraftwerk romancing hypercompetent robots and cyborgs with loose circuits, bullet trains, and other big rigs controlled by oddly impassive humans. On "Showroom Dummies," a chilly voice repeats the phrase "We are showroom dummies" in affectless English about a zillion times. The verses tell what happens when the dummies decide to rise up and seize the day: They abandon their posts and head for a nightclub. Where, of course, they dance.

As with much Kraftwerk music, "Showroom Dummies" can be appreciated on several levels. It's a Twilight Zone episode, or a caustic comment on the disconnectedness of modern life (even mannequins long for fellowship). It's also electrifying dance music. Kraftwerk's drum machine patterns map out a symmetrical grid, and everything that goes on top of it -- recurring synth blips, shimmering washes of digital-pastorale chords -- lines up to the millisecond, a triumph of mechanistic precision. This method of music-making, radical in the mid-'70s, has become commonplace since. Virtually everyone producing hip-hop or electronic dance music has drawn inspiration from these visionary blasts -- including Afrika Bambaataa, whose 1972 single "Planet Rock" famously interpolates the "Trans-Europe Express" themes. The tune's the same, but the differences are striking: Bambaataa uses it to beckon listeners to his electro-funking dance floor, where the party never ends. In Kraftwerk's conception there is no party, just an eerie barren ecosystem, frozen under ice.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

This German group's sound sought to eliminate the distinction between men and machines. Kraftwerk's robot-synthesizer grooves influenced Seventies electro-disco hitmakers, early Eighties hip-hop, and the entire world of techno and house music.

Trans-Europe Express was chosen as the 238th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

 Reader's Comments

Christopher Duquette

Excessive use of drugs,even a single overdose, can lead to a long term sense of insanity. One night I was offered a hit of "Dragon Fly" acid by a co-worker at the Gaiety Male Burlesque. I was warned that this acid was stronger than I was used to taking during my first year of drug experimentation at the age of 18. I took the acid and left the Gaiety with a fellow street savvy dancer named "Hot Rod", who continued to offer me more drugs in his possession. I was sitting on a cowboy themed wood fence in the Gallery's basement lounge with my Tony Lama boots securing me from the precarious position like a parakeet in a cage when someone offered an ethyl chloride rag, which, once I clenched in my mouth for a few seconds, put my mental state over the top and my physical state flat on the concrete ground.When I came out my fallen unconsciousness, I was surrounded by the oversized big wigged clown faces of concerned drag queens like vultures examining their prey, my drug buddy "Hot Rod" not in sight. Richy, who worked in the basement coatcheck and responsible for refilling the tank of Kool-Aid spiked with punch that feed the public cooler upstairs to fortify the dancers, was my friend in need to rescue me from being a public spectacle on the floor.I found respite lying amongst the comfort of cloth, sheepskin and fur coats hung in the coatcheck. Richy instructed me to get out of my pathetic paralyzed state by moving my body on the dancefloor. I needed to recover the wisdom of who I was and what was happening to me if I was to keep from going insane. It was a tough fight for the next couple of hours as I remained practically catatonic on the crowded dance floor. DJ Nicky Siano introduced a new song that night that became the anthem for me to not disremember this transcendental experience. "Trans Europe Express" by Kraftwerk was a dark mind melt that seemed to play to my fragile state of mind for an eternity, melting the walls and the faces of the dancers around me. The robotic monotone of the vocals in this German import were not exactly singing passionately about romance, love, and the zealous desire to dance as most disco singles conveyed in their message. "Trans Europe Express" was more like the experience of traveling on a speeding steel metal rail train:

From London, Munich and Amsterdam,

Trans. Europe. Express.

Leave Paris in the morning with T.E.E.

It felt like I was being driven by an evil, mean, killer train. I begged my friends who worked in the Gallery to find me a valium to stop the uncomfortable bad trip, pathetically willing to trade my Tony Lama Boots. I bought Kraftwerk's album the next day to never forget my first & last bad trip. I wrote about my overextended NYC disco experiences,dancing professionally and recreationally from 1976-2004, until I crashed & burned from the excesses of the lifestyle in my book Homo Go Man: a fairytale about a boy who grew up in discoland.

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