Tangerine Dream – Tangram

It’s no secret that the 1980′s had a pretty harsh effect on the artistic success of many of the progressive rock bands. While the early seventies were something of a golden age for artists like Yes, Genesis, and Tangerine Dream, they would all ultimately take the plunge into mediocrity at one point or another. In the case of Tangerine Dream, these Germans were snagged by the soundtracks bug. There’s no doubt that making soundtracks for Hollywood films was a better way to pay the bills than cater to a snobbish ‘artiste’ subculture of ‘trve’ music fans, but I cannot help but wonder Edgar Froese and co. ever felt just a little bit bad that they threw away much of their artistic innovation in exchange for a greater sense of commercial recognition. Whatever the case, “Tangram” is generally considered to be one of the band’s final albums before they took the final dive into corporate synthesized hell. Although the longform composition format is here, it’s filtered through a decidedly poppy and upbeat approach to their electronic sound. It’s Tangerine Dream’s transition album, for better or worse. The band had done many better things in the albums prior, but it deserves some recognition, if only for the fact that this is the final chapter of their glory era.

Like the band’s masterworks “Zeit” and “Rubycon”, “Tangram” is divided into twenty minute, side-long compositions. Contrary to the course implied by “Force Majeure” and “Stratosfear”, “Tangram” reverts to an almost entirely electronic soundbase, with Moogs and a host of pleasant synthesized textures chipping out the sound. Had it not been for the change in tone and atmosphere, I could have sworn Tangerine Dream were reverting back on their old ways. Although the formula sounds similar to the style of “Rubycon”, Tangerine Dream focus on an upbeat, even catchy sound on both ‘sets’ of the album. Although there are no melodies that particularly leap out, both compositions on “Tangram” are accessible and clean to the ear. Tangerine Dream denotes driving rhythms with only scant use of real percussion, instead relying on the synthesizers to do the work. As is usually the case for Tangerine Dream, the sound of the synths are rich and well-suited to the mood they intend to evoke.

Although “Tangram” is very accessible compared to the lonely space-wanderings of “Rubycon”, it is only so for its softness on the ear and implied pop rhythms. Some of the lead synth ideas are interesting, but Tangerine Dream are stuck in an uncomfortable place between trying to be melodic and catchy, and being progressive and atmospheric. “Tangram” is not particularly impressive in either category, although there are smatterings of ideas on either side of the record that recall the band at their best. Unfortunately, from this point forth, alot less could be expected from the quintessential German electronic collective.

Tracklist:

1. Tangram Set 1 (19:47)
2. Tangram Set 2 (20:28)

Line-up:

* Johannes Schmoelling – synthesizer, keyboards
* Edgar Froese – synthesizer, bass, guitar, keyboards, producer
* Christopher Franke – percussion, keyboards, producer

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

2 Comments

  1. John

    November 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I agree with most of what Nikola has to say about this album and where it fits into the TD showcase. However, as one of my favourite TD offerings of this period, I’ve never seen it as ‘poppy’ more a celebration of being able to do more electronically than had been the case before. The simplicity of the work and the ethereal ambience is what has always stuck out for me but I too lamented the move to shorter pieces which, whilst competent in their own way, lacked the symphonic appeal they had previously formed.

    • Aidan

      August 21, 2014 at 2:41 am

      This is probably their most underrated album. I love the fresh, stripped-down sound after the overwrought excess of Force Majeure; the new digital synthesizers have a spotlessly clean and surprisingly warm tone, and the music itself has evolved as well; synthesizers notwithstanding, the first side could have been a classic Mike Oldfield composition, and the second sounds almost like Kraftwerk. The last great Tangerine Dream album, although they had a couple more very nice ones before “jumping le parc” for good.

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