The Virgin Years 1977-1983 is the follow-up to last year's The Virgin Years 1974-1978 (see review) by Tangerine Dream (TD). The latter album was a 3CD-box set comprising the five remastered albums TD recorded for Virgin Records between 1974 and 1978: Phaedra (1974), Rubycon (1975), Ricochet (1975), Stratosfear (1976) and Cyclone (1978) plus a selection of rare single releases, 7-inch edits as well as two rarely heard radio adverts. However, it didn't contain Encore, originally released in 1977. The follow-up to this previous release contains seven albums plus two singles all packed on a 5CD-album set.
CD1 starts with the 'missing' album Encore (1977) containing live recordings assembled from various concerts during the band's successful USA-tour in 1977. Back then the line-up consisted of Chris Franke, Peter Baumann and Edgar Froese. This remastered version includes two bonus tracks: the single Monolight and its flipside Hobo March. As far as I know these two rather melodic and short pieces never hit the charts. Hobo March is actually the same as Ode To Granny A from Ages (1977), a solo album by Froese. Encore was originally released as a double album. The concerts were recorded at famous places like the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the Avery Fisher Hall in New York. On this tour the audience could enjoy a laser show for the first time. The music ranges from dirge-like drones and piano solos to experimental textures and hints of progressive and avant-garde rock. It was Baumann's last recording with TD. Encore was released out of sequence because by doing so, they didn't have to mention Baumann's name on the payroll for two big selling boxes, but only for one. A mystery solved, I guess!
CD2 starts with Force Majeure (1979) with only Franke and Froese as key members assisted by Klaus Krieger (drums, percussion) and Eduard Meyer (cello). The music on the album has slightly developed to the more melodic sound they would adopt in the eighties. For example, Cloudburst Flight is in the tradition of progressive rock rather than in the Berlin School-style of the seventies. It was also an excuse for Froese to show his virtuosity on the electric guitar, which he does with amazing intensity. The distortion of the bass sequence on Thru Metamorphic Rocks was the result of a burnt-out transistor in the mixing desk, but when they heard the result they decided to keep it that way. This track begins with a kind of ending theme, but then cross-fades into a hypnotic piece that builds upon a constant bed of pulsating sequencers and processed drums with various sound effects until it fades out some fourteen minutes later. Sections of the album would later on appear in slightly altered versions on the soundtracks Thief (1981) and Risky Business (1983). CD2 ends with the first set of Tangram (1980). On this album Franke and Froese were joined for the first time by Johannes Schmoelling.
CD3 starts with the second set of Tangram. The album marked the beginning of a new musical direction. It's closer to straightforward and melodic new age music and more tied to their soundtrack material. The first of the two side-long pieces progresses through several different passages that use gently brushed acoustic guitars as well as the requisite synthesizers. This is the first glimmering of TD's eventual direction of the eighties. CD3 continues with Exit (1981) containing two bonus tracks. The album marks the beginning of a new phase in TD's music. Gone are the side-long by sequencers led journeys to be replaced by topical pieces that were more self-contained in scope, more contemporary in sound. Schmoelling's influence is really felt on Exit. On this release the listeners are introduced to electronic music of the next generation bringing the sound of the dance floor into the mix. That doesn't mean that TD had stopped with creating eerie, evocative music as you can hear on Pilots Of Purple Twilight and Exit. A special mention for the opening track Kiew Mission since it's a captivating commentary on nuclear war. It features a none-credited Berlin actress chanting in Russian. Exit ends with Remote Viewing on which TD returns to the past invoking Phaedra and all the sequencer-driven works. The two extra tracks are the A- and B-side of the single Beach Scene / Burning Bar, the A-side being a fantastic ballad with a fine guitar solo; the B-side holds a fine sequencer rhythm with synthesizer solos. The album tracks Choronzon / Network 23 were also released as a single, but these are not included as single versions.
CD4 starts with the complete version of White Eagle (1982). The album's principle work is Mojave Plan, a twenty-minute piece consisting of four movements that represent some of the darkest music TD had recorded so far. It covered one side of the original vinyl album starting with the usual vague and ambient moods before moving towards a structured melody dominated by synths. The Munich Philharmonic Orchestra appears later on this track. The other tracks are all shorter and have more of the usual sequencer patterns which the band used on previous releases. The title track was remixed and became the theme music for an episode of the German TV-series Tatort with the German title Das Mädchen Auf Der Treppe (The girl on the staircase). The fourth disc ends with the first part of Logos (1982).
CD5 starts with the second part of Logos, which is a live album holding the concert at the Dominion Theatre in London. It sounds much like Tangram with short movements connected by atmospheric musical parts. The album captures the period of TD's evolution from experimental to melodic music. From the two-hour concert only fifty minutes are included. However, the entire concert was later on released on Tangerine Leaves, volume 1: London 1982. The first part is rather good and contains some fantastic synthesizer solos; the second part however, is less interesting but still enjoyable enough to play it once in a while. There's one more song at the end of the original CD-version: a very early eighties danceable synthpop tune called Dominion. Nice, but nothing special; at least it has some good melodies.
CD5 ends with the complete version of Hyperborea (1983) comprising the kind of soundtrack music that dominated TD's music in the eighties. Although this album isn't a soundtrack, it was clearly influential on some of the work the group was hired to do for Risky Business (1983), Flashpoint (1984), Firestarter (1984), Legend (1986), Near Dark (1988) and others. The album might be regarded as a turning point for TD. Getting their hands on the popular new keyboards of the mid-eighties, the band found wonderful textures, richly overlapping sequences, and on some level a chance to re-invent themselves with great results. The album was recorded in Berlin in 1983 and it was probably the shape of things to come for the remainder of the decade. This record was also the final product which brought the ten-year collaboration between TD and Virgin Records to an end.
The album starts with No Man's Land; with this track they were riding the crest of the trendy wave of imitation world music. This occurred above all by the use of Caribbean-style steel drums, sitar and a host of chattering polyrhythmic sounds. The title track is a throwback to TD's sound of the seventies. It almost contains a classical theme without any trance rhythms. Cinnamon Road is a short four-minute track; a catchy exercise and very danceable. Some people even might call it techno-pop. The album and CD5 end with Sphinx Lightning. This almost twenty-minute long piece can be regarded as a classic TD-styled hypnotic and rhythmic track with the swirling keyboard interplay that they were known for almost a decade earlier. Finally the album title needs an explanation. Hyperborea refers to a mythical, idyllic land in the Ancient Greek tradition. It was supposed to be located far to the north of Thrace in the Arctic Circle where the sun was shining twenty-four hours a day.
This second release of The Virgin Years is a rather good box set with only strong material. For me the highlights are the albums Force Majeure and Tangram. I guess these albums contain a musical style that could be labelled as progressive rock. However, once again this release isn't complete. I missed Thief, Pergamon and Heartbreakers, all released on the Virgin-label either within the time bracket indicated or belatedly released after the studio album contract had expired. Well, recently some of them were reissued by other labels. Maybe we can enjoy a third box set of The Virgin Years next year. Who knows! Anyway, both releases provide a good overview of TD's music from 1974 until 1983. This box set is a 'must have' for those who always wanted to have some music by Tangerine Dream.
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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