An Early Electronica Milestone
Kraftwerk's hypnotic 1974 smash "Autobahn" took machine worship to new heights. One of the first hit singles made entirely with synthesizers, it put listeners on the German highway system of its namesake, where cars whoosh past at superhigh speeds, 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 digitalpastorale 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 1982 single "Planet Rock" famously interpolates the "Trans-Europe Express" theme. 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.
Genre: Electronica, Rock
Released: 1977, Capitol
Key Tracks: "Europe Endless," "Showroom Dummies," "Trans-Europe Express"
Another Interpretation: The synthesized melody of "Trans-Europe Express" was sampled by Afrika Bambaataa for his futuristic single "Planet Rock," one of many hip-hop appropriations of Kraftwerk.
Catalog Choice: Autobahn
Next Stop: Jean-Michel Jarre: Oxygene
After That: Tangerine Dream: Phaedra
Book Pages: 433–434
#1 from David Phillips, Philadelphia - 11/25/2008 11:16
For Kraftwerk, I would have picked “Computer World” from 1981. That was the album where the band broke new ground in the department of sound design. To be fair, “Trans Europe Express” is former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flur’s favorite. He describes the melodies as “romantic”. But for hardcore sound freaks, it’s “Computer World” or “Electric Cafe (1986)”.
#2 from Justin, Oakland, California - 02/11/2009 2:29
Slight quibbles: “Autobahn” is not all synth; the song and album contain flute and guitar, and maybe even violin if I remember right. And “Trans Europe Express” was not the follow-up to “Autobahn.” In between came 1975’s “Radioactivity,” one of the more unusual of Kraftwerk’s albums—moody and atmospheric.
As for the best Kraftwerk album, I’d have to go with “Man Machine,” which not only embodies the band’s themes more completely than the others, but contains two of their catchiest songs (“The Robots” and “The Model”), their most beautiful and poignant song (“Neon Lights”), and the most perfect Kraftwerk song of all, “The Man Machine,” which starts with a simple ticking sound and builds, layer upon layer, sound upon sound, in a crescendo of precise rhythmic electronica. Their masterpiece. And their modern reworking of it, available in a live version on “Minimum Maximum,” is excellent as well.
#3 from dinara - 07/20/2009 4:31
I watched this film at the cinema and likes it immensely! It is so exciting and interesting! But my brother watched it at home (downloaded from http://www.rapidsharemix.com ) and said the film nadn’t impressed him much… Thus, do not watch films at home – go to the cinema! The effect is amazing.
#4 from John Adcock, Ashtead, United Kingdom - 11/11/2009 12:39
For me, it’s a toss up between this Kraftwerk album and The Man Machine. On balance, I’d probably tip the wink to Trans Europe Express - it’s haunting and timeless, and hard to believe it dates from the Seventies. Recently here in the UK, Kraftwerk in concert was shown on TV, from quite a recent performance I think. They still cut it - despite doing little more than standing in a line, fiddling with knobs on keyboards and other equipment. Odd isn’t it - how one electronic music can sound ageless, and others completely stranded in the decade where they came from?
#5 from Johanna - 03/08/2011 7:55
hey is there a remix of Trans Europe Express but it is done in like jazz and it sounds like people are singing it? It is extremely hard to hear the lyrics but i’m sure that they are saying “trans europe express.”
#6 from jogos online, faisal abad - 03/21/2012 3:53
former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flur’s favorite. He describes the melodies as “romantic”.
#7 from Best Music, Madhupur - 09/28/2012 7:33