Tangerine Dream – ‘Quantum Gate’ reviewed

❉ Tangerine Dream are alive and well, writes Neil Perryman.

I own every single album released by Tangerine Dream. That’s more than 100; I stopped counting in 1997 when they began churning out three a year. They were the first band I fell in love with, aged 14, the first band I saw live without my mum, and the band whose Spotify playlist will play at my wake (last wishes permitting). In short, I bloody love Tangerine Dream.

So when Edgar Froese, the band’s founding member, and its only constant throughout its 48 prolific years, passed away in 2015, I was devastated. But as well as mourning the loss of a visionary musician who had composed the soundtrack to my life, I also breathed a tiny sigh of relief. Because I wouldn’t have to buy any more Tangerine Dream albums. Finally, my collection was complete.

In fact it wasn’t until late last year, when I stumbled upon a link that purported to be Tangerine Dream covering the theme to Stranger Things (itself a homage to their seminal 1980s soundtracks), that I discovered – to my horror – that the band had no intention of laying down and dying, even though it was demonstrably dead.

I mean, how could this possibly be Tangerine Dream when Edgar Froese was Tangerine Dream? Yes, Thorston Quaeschning had been with the band since 2005, which makes him the third-longest serving member, and the last few times I saw them perform he was the one doing all the heavy lifting, but really? Imagine if Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks had all died in freak gardening accidents in the 1980s, and Chester Thompson, who doesn’t like gardening very much, inherited the Genesis mantle and began releasing albums under that name.

Well, that’s how it felt the day I heard that Tangerine Dream wasn’t over.

At least Quantum Gate‘s track titles are quintessentially Tangerine Dream (Granular Blankets, Proton Bonfire etc.), and if that wasn’t reassuring enough, Edgar’s name is listed as the co-composer on all the tracks bar one, as they are based on musical sketches he made just before his death, which are in turn based on his desire to translate quantum physics into music. At least that’s what it says in the press release.

The album opens with Sensing Elements and I admit that my heart sank when a typically inoffensive synth soundscape that I’ve come to expect from the 21st century iteration of this band did precisely bugger all for five minutes. Well, it’s definitely authentic, I thought. However, just as I was about to dismiss this track as another forgettable slice of mediocrity, an infectious, and faintly ominous, chugging sequencer line began to slowly rise to the fore, and what started out as more of the same gradually transformed into something which sounded more urgent and more epic than anything the band has produced in decades.

Not only did the triumphant keyboard riff which closes out the track transport me back to the good old days when one their compositions would fill one side of vinyl, and you could actually remember half the melodies, it actually reminded me why I loved this band so much in the first place.

You know, I honestly thought I’d put up a lot more resistance than this.

The next track, Roll the Seven Twice, is just as surprising, and as funky as hell to boot, while the third, the aforementioned Granular Blankets, boasts some electric guitar noodling that Edgar would have been proud of, and even though it sounds exactly like the sort of thing the band have been releasing for the last 15 years or so, it too gradually morphs into something a lot darker, stranger and fresher.

And this seems to be the theme of the album: introduce something that sounds achingly familiar before taking it somewhere new and exciting, which means Quantum Gate occasionally feels like a tribute album with a twist. For example, the track Identity Proven Matrix fuses the oppressive atmosphere of Poland (1984) with the hypnotic rhythms of Hyperborea (1983) and the orchestral grandeur of Le Parc (1985), but at the same time it embraces new techniques, rhythms and sounds with a zestful confidence that I haven’t witnessed from this band in quite some time. The same could also be said for Tear Down The Grey Skies, which sounds more like Tangerine Dream than Tangerine Dream have managed to sound since 1999.

The album closer, Genesis of Precious Thoughts, is another case in point. On the one hand it riffs knowingly on the band’s classic 1970s Virgin Years output, which is certainly a treat for the long-term fan (especially if, like me, you end up spending most of of the album trying to identify sequencer patterns), but what you’ll remember is Hosiko Yamane’s haunting violin, which takes the composition into territory that would give Hans Zimmer a run for his money, and a ridiculously catchy denouement which left me stunned, frankly. Not only is this a celebration of Tangerine Dream’s past, it’s a mission statement for its future.

But the stand out track for me has to be It’s Time To Leave When Everyone Is Dancing, which also happens to be the only track on the album without a Froese credit. In short, it’s fantastic. In fact, if I told you this was the new single from Orbital, you’d probably believe me. The last time I danced to Tangerine Dream was when they released the theme to Streethawk.

In summary, I came to this album expecting to hate it because the dream ended for me in 2015. Which means Edgar Froese must have succeeded in posthumously translating quantum physics into music, because I seem to exist in a parallel universe when Tangerine Dream are not only alive and well, they’ve just released one of my favourite albums of the year.


❉ ‘Quantum Gate’ is released on CD, vinyl and digitally by Kscope on 29th September 2017.

5 Comments

  1. Hi James thanks for the excellent review, you’ve said everything that I would have and I reckon I was also about 14 when I first heard a them. A friend at the time back in 1984 played his dads albums to me Stratosfear and Rubicon. My first purchase was the Poland album around the same time & I was blown away. I haven’t heard a new album since the early 90’s and my re-discovery was via Jean Michel’s collaboration with Edgar and then it was when I found out the sad news. I only heard a few snippets from the Itunes store and it didn’t take me much to know it was good, but then again Ulrich Schnauss is his worthy successor and you can hear him all the way through this. It just sounds as if they really got on well together. Sad that they are no longer together to bounce ideas.

  2. I was 13, and it was Rubycon and it had just come out. I would play it on a slate basher every Sunday morning (and at other times too). My Mum says it gave her a headache.

    The first time I went to watch them live, Baumann had been replaced by Schmoelling. The last time was a few years ago In Zürich. Edgar looked frail somehow. Ulrich was stunning. I bought two tickets from a work colleague. I made him change the seats to front centre circle, my traditional listening post for a TD concert. Then my other friend couldn’t come so I went alone. A friend of the man I bought the tickets from was there, unbeknownst to me. I later learned that he walked out about half way through. I think he had expected Rubycon/ Phaedra stuff.

    I don’t follow them as closely as I used to. Last releases I picked up were, in order, and over the last 7 years, Madcap’s Flaming Duty, The Island Of The Fay, The Atomic Series, Franz Kafka: The Castle, Quantum Gate.

    Quantum Gate is one of my favourite TD albums. I like it more than Flaming Duty in which they rarely put a foot wrong.

    To me, QG it’s the last album featuring Froese and it reminds me of Frank Zappa’s last release, Civilization Phaze III, a double CD Synclavier work, which I played constantly for weeks if not months. Not because the music is similar, but because the last work is one of the best in both cases. I don’t much care for Zappa’s other Synclavier stuff, because it sounds to me like electronic music a la The South Bank Show. I get that arrogant attitude because I have listened to TD since I was 13…

    QG seems to place the sequencers front and centre (and all around too). Listening carefully, you get the impression they are also the major melodies too. The melodic synth lines seem to be in the background somehow, smothered by the sequencers. Nice chord changes a la Schmoelling, weird tone colours that Froese would have chosen. The sequences seem to borrow from that stacatto effect used in No Man’s Land when beats become tunes and interrupted long notes.

    I wonder if it is Thorsten or Ulrich (or both) who seem to do such a good job of sounding like Froese on synth, on guitar.

  3. If you haven’t yet heard the Quantum Key EP, it’s definitely worth a shot – ostensibly a couple of outtakes from the album, but they’re as good as, if not better than, anything on there, plus Genesis… and an even better version of Proton Bonfire called Electron Bonfire. The arrival of Ulrich Schnauss, combined with perhaps more quality control without Edgar’s “release everything” attitude, has resulted in some of the band’s best music in a long time.

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