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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

TANGERINE DREAM: Optical Race (1988)

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

“A little like Le Parc, but with a colder tone, Optical Race is not that bad”

1 Marakesh 8:17 2 Atlas Eyes 4:04 3 Mothers of Rain 5:13 4 Twin Soul Tribe 4:28 5 Optical Race 3:13 6 Cat Scan 5:35 7 Sun Gate 4:44 8 Turning Off the Wheel 6:11 9 The Midnight Trail 6:54 10 Ghazal (Love Song) 5:00 CD Private Music 2042-2-P

(CD 52:39) (V.F.) (New Berlin School with a mix of tribal synth-pop)

Tangerine Dream who renews contact with Peter Baumann but loses Chris Franke. A whole paradox! It's a piece of the history of the Dream that ends, or a new page of it that is writing, it's according to, with the making of OPTICAL RACE. It's a Tangerine Dream amputated of his master in sequencing and rhythms, although they both sparkle here with vibrancy, that the writing of this album begins and will be released on Peter Baumann's new label; Private Music. A label that will offer some pearls of sweet and soft EM such as this album, yes yes, and those of Chris Franke, Pacific Coast Highway, and Eddie Jobson, Theme of Secrets. A newcomer, Ralf Wadephul has contributed in the composition of the album and was a member of the Dream for the North American tour which follows. According to Internet gossips, he left the band at the end of this tour because of implacable different (is it so?). Set apart the loss of Franke, Tangerine Dream undertook also an enormous technological bend with a massive use of digital instruments that will change forever the sound of the group for a more mathematical one. A sound to the colder colors where every step, every reorientation and every change of structures is made in the abruptness, in a certain analytical coolness. We are at the beginning of the Melrose years. In the years where Tangerine Dream goes out to conquer American and is sold, yes yes, to the use of making soundtracks of a rather average quality. These years start from OPTICAL RACE and go beyond 1995 when the confusion reigns while the Dream is always at Miramar. But for the history makers, the Melrose and Seattle years end in 1995, no matter what. Straightaway they are not my favorite years. Tangerine Dream changes literally his sound, sounding much more like a movie music maker band, and tries fiercely a commercial breakthrough in the states. For the fans of the 70's, it was the end of a great era and some will go as far as to say that Edgar. should have changed the name of the band. Except that Tangerine Dream had already undertaken a more commercial bend, with shorter and livelier tracks, with the publication of Le Parc and Underwater Sunlight. We can even add the soft and poetic Legend to this list. Thus we should have understood that inexorably, the Dream would change of musical skin. And we shall also understand later that the soul of TD was well and truly Edgar Froese. Despite of all these recriminations, as well as the acerbic criticisms, from the media and the fans, OPTICAL RACE is not that bad. A little as Le Parc, but with a colder tone, OPTICAL RACE is mostly structured on short melodious, rhythmical and melancholic tracks which are tied around the same musical link. As for me, it is doubtless the most beautiful album of Tangerine Dream in his sonic attack of the American commercial temples. And this, in spite of some pearls of ineptitudes. The way Marakesh is structured has caught my hearing instantly. A soft veil of gloom falls, and the first sequences skip as chunks of wood on the muffled curves of powerful pulsations. Marakesh attacks our ears mellifluously before forcing a rhythm of kind of clanic synth-pop. This rhythm switches curtly for a tribal approach of the Middle East and Marakesh presents a series of rhythmic permutations as drastic as unforeseen. The sequencing is very good and the harmonies are tinted by seraphic voices which hum on a rhythm which goes from a great e-rock to some ethereal tribal dances to return to the structures of sequences and pulsations which drown themselves in violent electronic percussions. This is a good track that mixes perfectly the wild ardour and the tenderness in a solid rock and harmonious pattern. But there are tracks that are rather ordinary. Beautiful, but ordinary, if we consider that we are talking about Tangerine Dream and the perfumes of a tribal approach of the Middle East float everywhere. We are in the American years and the Dream tries to seduce a radio public fond of New Age. Twin Soul Tribe and its flute without life is a perfect example. It's a track rolling on the same pattern which repeats constantly and whose fragile nuances cannot save it from boredom. I also think of Atlas Eyes and these insipid voices which hum on a rhythm as wild as Marakesh but which is also a weak reflection of it. And there is the title-track which is big speedy e-rock with cold harmonies but which presents a fascinating harmonious spiral and finally to The Midnight Trail which sounds like a prelude at the numerous soundtracks to come. I don't say that it's all that bad, although there is one or two, but we speak about Tangerine Dream here! A Tangerine Dream that still seduces with Mothers of Rain, the pearl of all, although I quite like the crescendic spiral of Turning off the Wheel and its hypnotic aura of New Berlin School which breathes over some minimalists linear pulsations. Well, Mothers of Rain is a magnificent ballad which offers a beautiful bouquet of feelings with its percussions which run in their shadows and its harmonies of a synth which cries in solitary. It's very beautiful and it's doubtless what gives all its cachet to a track like Cat Scan which inherits a bit of this structure of sequences from Mothers of Rain. In the department: I want to cry, there is the very beautiful Sun Gate and its heavy rhythm of synth-pop ballad of the still beardless years of MTV. The solo of guitar is to tear up any soul which refuses to say that it's beautiful. Well, that’s another debate and it does the job! I forgot Ghazal (Love Song)? Not really. It's the kind of thing that would have charm the teenagers always plugged on the selling dreams machine that is MTV with a beautiful ballad which nails the feelings at big knocks of drums. Still there, I don't say that it's not beautiful, but there is a strong nuance between good and beautiful. And it's all the heart of the debate of Tangerine Dream's new musical tangent, of OPTICAL RACE, which is very pleasant to hear by the way, and the Melrose/Seattle years. Like it or not, the breakthrough, shy goes without saying, of Tangerine Dream was going to advance the cause of EM on the American scene. I know to have seen a bundle of albums there land in the record shops over here in Canada. I’m thinking in particular of the label Innovative Communication with artists such as SoftwareMind Over Matter and Baffo Banfi which became to sell in the HMV. There were also the labels XYZ and Erdenklang. The proof is that in spite of everyone, the Dream will always be a key group, a precursory group. But that doesn't ennoble totally OPTICAL RACE. And frankly, the adventure turned into a nightmare. The Yankees seized of the New Berlin School style to dilute it in insipid New Age, into music for meditation. It was the time of the common gods and their trickeries, as well as the Zen movement. Thus it's between these waters difficult to navigate that the Dream was going to paddle, going with albums of a horrifying quality. Tangerine Dream who does New Age it's as if Rogers Waters would have kept the name of Pink Floyd to make some hip-hop!

Sylvain Lupari (January 28th, 2011) ***½**

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