Tangerine Dream – Stratosfear

With “Rubycon”, it is this reviewer’s opinion that Tangerine Dream finally tapped into the true potential of their sound. Vast, mysterious, and even downright creepy at times, “Rubycon” is the essential ‘desert island’ album for Tangerine Dream. Relating this to the album in question, “Stratosfear” had a tough act to follow. Perhaps under the impression that the same sort of “Rubycon” magic could not be reproduced, Tangerine Dream instead branch out into a number of different styles, fusing them into the band’s enveloping ‘space’ style. Compared to “Rubycon” and even “Phaedra”, Tangerine Dreams’ seventh album does not seem to have received the same reverence as legacy as others in the band’s classic canon. It’s up for argument that the diversity here results in a feeling of scatteredness, but the genius that is Tangerine Dream fire all their cannons with “Stratosfear”.

The name feels like a bit of a misnomer. Although the ethereal concept of the ‘stratosphere’ could apply to this and any of Tangerine Dream’s spacey albums, there is little to fear about the music. If anything, “Stratosfear” takes a more upbeat approach to its atmosphere than “Rubycon” or even those albums that came before. Throughout the latter half of the seventies, Tangerine Dream sought to fuse their space music with a more rock-based flavour, and the roots of that doctrine can be found here. On top of the miasmatic moog arpeggios now considered a trademark of the band’s work, there is use of ‘real’ rock instruments, namely the lead guitar and piano. These elements aside, “Stratosfear” offers a similar listening experience to the fully synthesized TD. Above all else, the focus here is on ambiance and atmosphere, and the band excels in this respect. Electronic instruments are stretched and twisted into some fairly cerebral textures. Of course, by this point in the band’s career, they have already become masters of this meticulous ambiance. Though soothing and mellow as anything you will find in the realm of progressive rock, this gives the listener a choice to focus in on the music and listen intently for these complex timbres. That’s not a liberty always bestowed in this ambient brand of music; it really helps to set Tangerine Dream apart from their peers.

The album’s greatest strength is also its glaring weakness in this case, and it could be either depending on the listening experience you’re looking for. Diversity, diversity, diversity. By this, I do not necessarily mean that “Stratosfear” is a melange of completely different styles. Instead, they are a little more liberal with their styles than before, and each composition brings a different feeling of atmosphere to the table. The opening title track brings a familiar, arpeggiated synth sound, the likes of which could have fit snugly in “Phaedra”. Things take a shift with “Big Sleep In Search Of Hades”, which goes for a melancholic sound I could imagine hearing on an early Genesis album. My favourite track here however is the third, “3 AM At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee”. Undeniably the most ambient and loose track on the album, it steers clear of the electronic hooks and goes for a very bleak soundscape, the likes of which I would likely hear in some sort of post- apocalyptic desert. With the occasional flourish of harmonica, it tells a wordless story, and it’s all the better for it.

“Invisible Limits” is a fine way to end the album, riding in on the rock elements to a degree Tangerine Dream had not used since the early days. Even still, it is a mostly electronic composition, but the electric guitar leads and pianos give a depth to the sound that comes as a surprise after hearing “Rubycon”. “Stratosfear” is a fairly underrated album, and as excellent as it is, I’m still not quite sure if Tangerine Dream’s seventh record would have been better or worse if it had gone for the more homogeneous approach. The more rock- based approach would not work quite as well as time went on, but “Stratosfear” hits a nice middle ground between new innovations, and their classic trademark.


1. Stratosfear (10:04)
2. Big Sleep In Search Of Hades (4:45)
3. 3am At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee (8:10)
4. Invisible Limits (11:40)


* Edgar Froese – Mellotron, Moog synth, 12 & 6 string guitars, Grand piano, bass guitar, Mouth Organ
* Christoph Franke – Moog synth, organ, percussion, Loop Mellotron, harpsichord
* Peter Baumann – Moog synth, projekt electronic rhythm computer, Fender E-Piano, Mellotron

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