Tangerine Dream: Exit (1981)
When Virgin Records issued Tangerine Dream's Exit in 1981, the death throes of progressive rock's mainstream glory days weren't fully obvious, yet. Still, a significant number of important prog-rooted albums appeared the same year, a few of which were solid sellers for the acts that spawned them: Moving Pictures by Rush; Worlds Apart by Saga; Fire Of Unknown Origin by Blue Oyster Cult; Discipline by King Crimson; Nude by Camel; Magnetic Fields by Jean-Michel Jarre; Audion by Synergy; 1984 by Rick Wakeman; and the critically-panned Abacab by Genesis. /_|^|_/ Exit — arguably the best studio album from Tangerine Dream's 1980-1985 lineup of Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling — was a bit of a sleeper and moved only a modest number of units upon its release. As far as actual money-making went, the seminal German trio didn't have to worry. Not only did the band gig steadily in Europe, but film work was calling: additional recognition had been won by furnishing the musical score to Michael Mann's epic crime saga and box office smash, Thief. To this day, the latter remains the group's very best score, selling extremely well and lasting nearly twelve weeks on the soundtrack charts. Risky Business performed exceptionally, and so did the platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated Canyon Dreams.
After a lukewarm reception for the score to William Friedkin's suspense thriller, Sorcerer, this was a major step forward; the Dream hadn't exactly had a "hit" since 1973's pivotal Phaedra.
On the heels of Thief came the new album: for the first time since Stratosfear (1976), six tracks of variable length and purposive cohesion replaced side-length compositions anchored by freely roaming sequences and spatial vistas linked by interstitial segments. Christoph Franke's own Polygon Studios was band HQ, and when it came to the latest synthesizer technology, the Dream had it — be it common or custom. Each album had become something of an event, an unveiling of new sounds and textures to be relished side by side with the compositions themselves. Gearwise, the focal point of Franke's concert rig was his modular setup [Erik Norlander is a current modular advocate], which consisted of one or more polyrhythmic sequencers and adjoining modules — Froese also had a modular system behind him. In '81, Franke & Froese had PPG's (Wolfgang Palm's) Wave 2 synth before anybody, and a Fairlight, and were always keen on bolstering their general sound banks. In one exercise, Mellotron tape segments were sampled & looped (stitched together), then fed through a processor to achieve facsimiles of much longer duration (plus, the 'Trons could remain at home while the masters were away). Franke and Froese both had SC Prophet 5's; Froese and Schmoelling (who brought along his Mini-Moog when he'd joined the previous year) both likely had Roland Jupiter 8's. The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer was used to cook up nifty drum parts. Synth-lovers worth their salt know how valuable the Jupiter series was for their rich string sounds and otherworldly pads. Other synthesizers in residence at Polygon included an Oberheim OB-X, the ARP Odyssey and Pro/DGX, an Elka string synth, other Moog models and a Synclavier — from whence the very first sound heard on Exit came!
Speaking of Schmoelling, his own rig may have been diminutive in scale next to Froese's and Franke's PE towers and "walled-in" schemata, but he was the foot in the derriere Tangerine Dream needed. As the band motioned to continue in a somewhat more conventional format — though side-length forays would return on White Eagle and Hyperborea — another player like [Schmoelling's predecessor] Peter Baumann probably wouldn't have been a good idea. Baumann's role reportedly was that of "synthbassist" and "additional colorations" (whether that's 100% completely true is another matter). Froese was the self-appointed melody man; as evidenced on Force Majeure's title suite, Froese was no slouch on the piano, in addition to already being a respectable guitarist who came close to collaborating with Bowie. The classically-trained Schmoelling brought even more chops to the table: now there were two who could handle melodies, chordings and scalar vamps. This allowed Franke to pretty much rule the roost when it came to the custodial sector: sonicraft, canvassing and the lion's share of sequencing. By the mid-1980's, quite the foundry had been developed!
Exit unfolds like two three-scene acts on vinyl, and the effect isn't lost on compact disc. "Exit" means to leave, or represents a departure, but the word also means death. The uniformly abstract cover leans towards the latter, but is open to interpretation. The opener, "Kiev Mission" was Edgar Froese's response to the nuclear arms race; three of its nine minutes contain lyrics of a forward-looking nature sung by a Russian actress. Froese is not credited with writing the lyrics, but "supplying" them [Source: Tadream.net]. The track opens with the ringing of a spectral gong which represents a series of explosions, each reverberation sending ripples through the air as on water. The wispy sonic scrawlings from Thief engage the bridge chords and precursory sequence — a jazz-rock drum pattern emerges. The aforementioned transposed Mellotron samples sound authoritatively in the track's subtler second stage that echoes the Baumann era ['73-'79] and its aversion to borders. "Pilots Of Purple Twilight" officially marks the shift to a tighter format that approaches verses and choruses, and full starts versus gradual lead-ins. Bright pads, rounded, bubbling bass timbres and a beautiful Baroque melody transport the listener off of this sphere. Another technique for adding or reducing tension is noticeable — the temporary muting of a sound or pattern. "Choronzon" is most well-known Exitune, and for good reason: it's the unofficial "single." The BPM counter rises in favor of a basely funky motif, an unrelenting tempo, and organic-sounding drums. A most infectious melody rises from this broth and rides the start-stop bassloop. In concert, the overall effect was magnified threefold and this particular composition, barely over five minutes on the album, graduated to a ten-minute plus version with a prolonged intro and additional improvised leads!
Act II begins with the moody title cut (which was used in Risky Business), propelled by a menacing bassline. Filters flutter and chalky greys and ashen blues descend over a fogged sea of glass. A probably theme for shadows and the world beyond, its ominous sheen eventually diminishes in aspect and the ambience of a rainshower drifts across the scene. Another upbeat toe-tapper, though less involving than "Choronzon," "Network 23" coasts down the backalleys of memory on an electro-funk magic carpet; the economical melody is buoyant and radiant. One of Franke's famous custom sounds, dubbed "the seagulls," is used here. The inobtrusively sumptuous "Remote Viewing" brings the album to a most satisfying conclusion. Library sounds are quickly browsed as in a gallery before we are spirited away to yet another plane. Density and mechanoid rhythms are replaced by a phantasmal air, a "Dali-esque Fuse" to set alight across the sequential soundscape that echoes segments of Phaedra and Encore. The synth-flute is squarely Froese's, validated by a listen to his stunning '79 solo, Stuntman. Embraced or shunned by longtime Dreamers alike, Exit is, in retrospect, a work that continues to age gracefully, short but decadently sweet.
Note: just recently, a very exciting piece of news was announced — Edgar
Froese and Johannes Schmoelling are working together again, and plan to record music written nearly twenty-five years ago. In doing so, expect a few vintage synthesizers to be dusted off. Between this and Froese's ambitious re-recording of his first six solo albums, and his first new solo album in over twenty years, Dalinetopia (a tribute to his mentor, Salvador Dali), 2005 looks to be an exciting year!
1. Kiew Mission (9:18)
2. Pilots Of Purple Twilight (4:19)
3. Choronzon (4:07)
4. Exit (5:33)
5. Network 23 (4:55)
6. Remote Viewing (8:20)
Total time – 36:32
For tons more information on Germany's seminal electronic music entity, visit Tangerine Dream's Official Web Site, TangerineDream.org
For general information on analog synthesizers, visit VintageSynth.org