Tangerine Dream - The Pink Years 1970-1973 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Tangerine Dream - The Pink Years 1970-1973

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-28
Tangerine Dream - The Pink Years 1970-1973
Tangerine Dream - The Pink Years 1970-1973

For a long time, Tangerine Dream remained on my musical periphery. In 1970’s German experimental music terms, they were never household names like Kraftwerk or namechecked as frequently as the eternally cool Can. Clearly, I’ve been missing out and this boxset has arrived in the nick of time to show me the error of my ways.

Formed in 1967 by Edgar Froese, these German electronic pioneers would go on to record an absolutely staggering, barely believable, 150 albums (or thereabouts). Now, that’s the kind of discography that could intimidate even the most ardent music fanatic. I mean, where do you start? Luckily that question has been answered with the advent of The Pink Years Albums 1970- 1973. The band’s first four albums collected in one handy box by the ever-reliable Cherry Red label.

In truly epic style our journey begins with ‘Genesis’, the opening track on the bands 1970 debut Electronic Meditation. A discombobulating swell of drones heralds the birth of the universe and our introduction to Tangerine Dreams uncompromising, avant-garde vision. A rich but sonically disorientating instrumental stew of cello, violin, flute, organ, ceremonial drums and discordant guitar.

Formless and free-flowing, the overall effect a distinctly psychedelic one. The 12 minutes ‘Journey through a Burning Brain’ finds guitar and organ rising and falling, the song occasionally hinting at a Velvet’s like rumble before melting before our eyes like a Dali painting. The rest of the album continues in a similar vein; ambient textures, endlessly spiralling solos and an incredibly loose, improvisational feel.

The Electronic Meditation line-up consisted, primarily, of Froese, Conrad Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze. This particular line-up would never come together again. Perhaps one of the reasons why the album feels so different when compared to the next three releases. With Froese’s vision still taking shape it’s perhaps not the album to start with but an important document nonetheless.

The next album brings a line-up change and a three track, 40-minute journey into the cosmos in the form of 1971’s Alpha Centauri. Froese, Christopher Franke and Steve Schroyder (as well as some guest musicians) take the band’s sound to the next level. A darker, more focused trip into the unknown; the organ-heavy drones of ‘Sunrise in the Third System’ essentially re-introducing the band. For me, this is where things start to click into place.

The sci-fi sound effects and generally epic vibes of ‘Fly and Collision of Comas Sola’ stretching out over 13 majestic minutes, the sound of an organ being played at the edge of the universe. The spirit of Hawkwind and Pink Floyd is here but with any semblance of rock replaced by ambient yet mildly apocalyptic soundscapes. I imagine it would work a treat with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If you weren’t already completely hypnotised the 22-minute title-track should do the job. The sounds here are much smoother, more drone-based then Electronic Meditation. There’s no noodling solo’s or even the slightest hint of any traditional rock instrumentation, just the glacial groaning of the cosmos to keep you company. Unlike some of their contemporaries, there’s no riff or motorik groove to grab onto here, just the spacey new-age ambience.

For me, 1972’s Zeit is the dark-star at the heart of this collection and one of the most startling albums I’ve heard in a long time. Froese and Franke are joined by keyboardist Peter Baumann (and, again, a number of guest musicians) for the four ‘movements’, each piece nearly 20 minutes in length. A deep, unsettling, cello and a Moog synthesizer creating the ominous drones that greet us on ‘Birth of Liquid Plejades’. It almost feels like a horror film soundtrack or, perhaps, the music for a funeral in deep space. Either way, there’s something just a little bit terrifying about Zeit.

‘Nebulous Dawn’ keeps up the ominous mood; squelchy synths and a dark, unnerving atmosphere. For an album from the early 70’s, it’s surprising just how contemporary it all feels (when compared to other experimental music that is). The gloomy, post-industrial electronic drones of Coil’s Worship the Glitch and The Haxan Cloak (in particular his use of strings) both come to mind while exploring the albums heady, doom-laden, textures.

The deathly drones continue throughout the rest of the album, time slipping away as you settle in for the duration. You can’t really listen to an album like Zeit casually. Strictly speaking, it’s all quite uneventful. Yet if you give it time (get it? Zeit means time) then you’ll be sucked into the albums bleak, yet mesmerising, black hole. Even if you don’t like it all that much it’s hard not to be impressed, the band’s sound having evolved beyond all recognition in the space of two years.

With 1973’s Atem the line-up stays the same but the band’s sound shifts yet again. The lengthy title-track bursting from the speakers, the drums and (whisper it) almost hum-able melody feel liberating after the dark, oppressive tones of Zeit. The triumphant beginning giving way to ambient drones, the music as strange and otherworldly as I’ve come to expect. It was John Peels Album of the Year back in ’73 and brings the bands ‘Pink Years’ era to a suitably widescreen conclusion.  

There’s something very cinematic about the music of Tangerine Dream, the swirling underwater orchestra of ‘Fauni- Gena’ sounding like an explorer's tentative first steps on an alien planet in some sci-fi epic. It’s certainly easy to see why the band aren’t namechecked as often as Can and Neu amongst the psych-rock crowd, Tangerine Dream creating music that shares more common ground with avant-garde composers and Philip Glass than it does with anything remotely rock based.

As with all boxsets like this, it’s a lot of music to take in. Tangerine Dream, clearly, aren’t for everybody and I’m sure for every new convert there will be someone else who dismisses it all as pretentious rubbish. For those of us who find ourselves suitably intrigued, The Pink Years provides a window into one of the most prolific and important experimental outfits out there. If you’re a fan of all things strange and esoteric and haven’t yet given Tangerine Dream the time of day then buying this boxset could be the beginning of something quite beautiful.

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