by Paul Ashby
Following founder Edgar Froese’s sudden passing earlier this year, fans new and old are examining, re-examining, and appreciating Tangerine Dream’s catalog. For the newcomer, or those wanting a refresher, there are several good places to start.
Four Tangerine Dream SHM-SACDs were released in late February via Virgin/Universal Japan. They’ll only play on SACD machines; also available are (slightly) less-pricey SHM-CD versions that’ll spin on standard players.
They’re difficult to find in the USA. They’re expensive. And they sound remarkably good — so much better than the mediocre first-issue Virgin UK CDs, or the late-80s budget LP reissues on Virgin UK, or crackly US LP versions on Jem’s Virgin International label. These new SACD reissues represent Tangerine Dream’s most transformative (and, at the same time, most consistent) mid-’70s era, when they transitioned from a psychedelic Krautrock combo into a more focused, powerful and unique electronic entity.
Phaedra‘s celestial throb was amazing then and it’s remarkable now, especially when considered in the context of the state of electronic music in 1974.
This isn’t Tomita or Switched-On Bach or Vangelis or even Synergy. Rubycon is the sound of finely-honed menace. It’s the album that launched hundreds of thousands of acid trips– or, uh, so I’ve heard.
It’s very possible that the band, exhausted from touring and recording, needed to, shall we say, recoup and regenerate, and this live album gave them a chance to catch their breath. What came next would make the lull worth the wait.
Overall, the sound on these SACDs (with the exception of the relatively drab Richochet) is excellent, especially on Stratosfear. The 12-string guitar on the latter has real presence, and the highs are delivered with a potent sizzle. If you like improved stereo separation and a more defined bass synth pulse to your Rubycon experience, you’ll feel it. There’s a lot going on in these recordings, and crappier masterings quickly turn the mid-low and low-end to mush. None of that here. There’s a clarity to the presentation sorely lacking on the old Virgin CDs. The soundstaging is much improved, as well.
The packaging is very Japanese, and by that I mean DELUXE, and high quality. “Mini-LP” gatefolds with obi strips, plus another obi that wraps around the back cover. Poly sleeves inside the glossy laminated jackets.
What’s missing? I’d LOVE Tangram (1980) in this format. It was the last truly great TD album. If subsequent SACD releases follow chronologically (and I have no evidence upon which to base this speculation), Encore, Cyclone, Force Majeure and Tangram should be the next batch. If there is a next batch. Fingers crossed.
USA sources for these reissues are … scant. Amazon US has them for $60. Yes, each. That would be $240 for all four (but hey, shipping is free with Amazon Prime!). CDJapan is selling them for $33.00 each plus shipping from Japan — about 25 bucks for all four, if you want them fast. But it’d be about $85 cheaper than getting them from the Amazon Borg.
Is it worth it for four SACDs? To a fan, on a decent system, at indecent dB levels, they’re justifiable. Incidentally, cranking these in the living room at “reference volume” is a blast, but one of the best parts of rediscovering these albums has been hearing them on good headphones through a quality headphone amplifier. Space music, inner space …that sort of thing.
One bit of advice: unless you’re a object-based, completist packaging slut like me, play for time and hope that these are released soon on DSD — for a few dollars less than $33 each.
And if you like this stuff, and haven’t already, go deeper into Edgar Froese’s solo career. Good starting points are Aqua, Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, and Macula Transfer, all from the same era as the SACD reissue series.
The audio from the YouTube embeds below is not encoded from the SACDs…not that anyone could really tell the difference on YouTube, I know. They appear to be from the 1994 series of remasters.