A beguiling mix of nostalgia and futurism.
Colin Buttimer 2009
Trans Europe Express began its journey in 1977 and, as with other Kraftwerk albums, it’s a beguiling mix of nostalgia and futurism. Although the rail network that gave the record its name was disbanded in 1984, it remains a resonant metaphor for the idea of a federal European culture deliberately set out to counterbalance the cultural dominance of America.
The record begins with Europe Endless, a paean to the continent’s “elegance and decadence”. Its wistful, haunting nature sets the scene for an album that establishes connections between personal, classical and industrial themes. The Hall of Mirrors and Showroom Dummies express the discomfort felt by the group at the impact of fame and initiate a seldom-observed psychological theme that would culminate in the group’s presentation of themselves as robots on their next album, The Man Machine.
The title track continues the theme of technology and travel first explored in the Kraftwerk’s surprise 1974 hit Autobahn. Pop’s restless rhythms are inextricably tied to the ceaseless movement of the 20th century, and a line can be traced from the sonic evocation of the railroad in the delta blues to Trans Europe Express and thence via Afrika Bambaata into contemporary dance music. And what could be more romantic than the long train journey travelled on this epic? Yet there’s a thunderous rhythmic force throughout that’s frighteningly unstoppable. At times it’s like standing too close to an express train racing past, lights ablaze in the darkness. The album closes with the dreamy Franz Schubert and then Endless Endless’s grainy voice echoing into a final silence. It feels as though a long journey is at an end.
This remastered release combines the minimal TEE graphic developed for the group’s ongoing world tour with the original studio photographs that appear to portray the group as 1930s radio stars or wealthy accountants in marked contrast to their role as sonic innovators. This underlines a mysteriousness that has seen Trans Europe Express’s stature grow gradually but inexorably over the last three decades.