March marks the birthday of many different important records. Amongst these, there is Kraftwerk’s sixth studio album from 1977. Yes, Trans-Europe Express is 40 years old. Even though it came out after the band has been together for seven years already, it was an unprecedented record, marking a huge change in music history.
Thinking about Kraftwerk it’s inevitable to think of them as unavoidably German. The organised sounds of Kraftwerk, especially on Trans-Europe Express, fit that the stereotypical image of the order-loving German. The sound is fairly cold and mechanic but still manages to be fairly melancholic. Even ironic at time, like on “Showroom dummies”, which seems to be a cynical comment on celebrity culture. Today, it might be unsurprising that Trans-Europe Express sounds like this, but it was surely the record on which Kraftwerk found themselves on. The previous releases by the band have been with different members, and only on Trans-Europe Express, they seemed to find the finalised line-up. Which makes it differ sonically to what they have released before that. In the previous years together, their label was Krautrock, but this record is a big leap away from it.
Just eight tracks long, at the first glance it might seem like not enough for an entire record. Yet in total, the music spans in at over 40 minutes, and it is not getting monotonous at any point. Unlike modern popular electronic music, Kraftwerk’s changes in music are subtle, only noticeable if you skip through the song at any point. Even though it is so different to many modern EDM noise-obsessed tracks, it is surely the record that started the popularity of electronic music in the mainstream. Kraftwerk had a hard time to break through to the mainstream, and even if they are still remembered by most music fans, they feel like something out of a niche.
Trans-Europe Express title doesn’t only refer to the records mimicking of monotonous train sounds. The record, in particular the title track, is meant to be a celebration of Europe, maybe even a dream of a train connecting the continent. What needs to be remembered is that in 1977, during Trans-Europe Express’ release, the idea of an integration of European countries was new. Half of the continent wasn’t even part of it. The melancholy that is accompanying all the songs might just be the display of the longing for peace and unity. Today, Kraftwerk still tour, filling up many venues. They mainly perform in Europe – today a fairly well connected, peaceful continent. We might still dream of a Trans-Europe Express, but it has never been that easy to travel to ‘Düsseldorf City’ from Paris, with a stop in Vienna.
Being fairly groundbreaking, the perception of Trans-Europe Express was positive, in every aspect. Critics loved this record, ‘the germans’ have brought something unheard into the popular music scene. Not only that, but it also inspired many artists to come. Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode or even David Bowie were all heavily influenced by the quartet. Pitchfork wrote recently. that soon it might be “a record that simply cannot be written about”. So let’s still talk about it, while we have the chance.