Kraftwerk, Trans Europe Express

Musical minimalism is too often used as a substitute for substance, and the first listen through I was ready to slap two stars on and be done with it, which would have been an injustice. TEE is not a perfect album, but it's a beguiling one that rewards the listener who invests in deeper study as well as realizing probably the best concept album idea they'd ever had. Having shed most of their krautrock roots by this point, TEE is the gateway to their late 1970s symphosynthotrilogy, and given their later output is probably the peak. "Europe Endless" was what finally won me over on the second listen, not only melodic and subtle and adding just enough sweetening on the theme and variations to avoid sounding repetitious, but also aspirational and hopeful — the continent enduring, the cultures mixing, forming the album's central symbolism around the now-defunct Express which might be a nice theme song to play when the EU Parliament starts getting uppity. I also found I enjoyed the refreshing wit of "Showroom Dummies," sitting around "exposing ourselves," offering some additional lyrical dimensions for a change that escaped me on a superficial scan. While the title track has some interesting quasi-musique concrète ideas (the train track motif especially) but ultimately overstays its welcome, overall TEE avoids sounding as dehumanized as some of its contemporary Eurosynth albums do because it has two things they don't: vocals, and a refreshing imperfection. If the music is formless and abstract, it sounds alien. If the music is programmed into a sequencer and unleashed on demand, it sounds robotic. The little flubs, the changes in tempo and the wavering voices all remind us there are real people singing, real people performing and real people playing, uniting themselves both body and soul in a grand idealist vision of what they hoped Europe could be. (Content: naïve European nationalism.)