- They are one of my favourite groups.
- The VC collection holds over forty of their albums.
- Their catalogue holds some two dozen soundtrack albums, recorded between 1977 and 1999.
All good reasons for a Film [Soundtrack] Festival piece on Tangerine Dream.
Although I might wish to crow about having all the TD OST albums, in fact I have just six.
Near Dark 
Each has things to recommend it and all I enjoy to varying degrees, so what to choose? One tempting option was Legend:
✔︎ Quite collectible vinyl record
✔︎ Popular Hollywood star (young Tommy Cruise)
✔︎ Includes a prog rarity (song by Jon Anderson of Yes)
✔︎ Most recent Tangerine Dream acquisition
But I don’t like Tom Cruise, so instead I’m going to rave about the album on the above list that has provided consistent pleasure for over three decades. There is nothing flash about the actual object—it is a mid-price Virgin Compact Disc with no frills, one photo, and only average digital fidelity, yet the music is energetic, engaging, and chock full of synth-y goodness. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…Thief by Tangerine Dream.
Unusually, the opening track fades in, giving a sense of returning rather than beginning. ‘Beach Theme’ has a thin synth line over a steady, pacing beat. It swells until, with a gorgeous downwards swoop… Szzzooooow, a melodic theme of stately beauty enters. But it doesn’t stop there. within a minute, Edgar Froese unleashes what is without doubt Tangerine Dream’s secret weapon—his electric guitar. Here he chooses a ringing, bell-like tone that cuts through the synthesiser backing like a well-tempered blade. TD veteran Chris Franke controls the electronic percussion and for the era, it sounds damn good.
‘Dr Destructo’ leads with a drum machine plus bass, the rhythm doing a brisk march as Froese wails an echoing guitar over the top. I’d call it psychedelic techno—brilliant.
Next up is the longest piece on the album, ‘Diamond Diary’. Contrasting nicely with the pulse of the previous track, this diary is quite floaty to begin with, a drifting synth line over a vibrato drone. A fast rhythmic sequence enters, with the guitar adding slicing diamond chords over the top. But this is one restless mother of a track; a keyboard progression takes over and a classic Tangerine Dream fast electronic shuffle pulses onwards until it breaks down on an ever accelerating single note. Crossfade to more gentle synth, pensive, sustained, until shards of guitar again announce an increase in pace and urgency. This piece is a complete feature film in ten minutes, moving through moods and changes so rapidly you’re almost breathless when the final segment slows to silence.
‘Burning bar’ is a three-way between Froese, Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling. Rocking bass line, synthesiser melody, dancing sequencer. Once again there are variations in tonalities and electronic timbres that keep the ears fresh.
Film soundtracks commonly re-use the strongest melodies and themes and Thief is no exception. The second half opens with ‘Beach scene’ which deploys the ‘Beach theme’ theme with minor variations. The intro is three times as long, building tension quite markedly to the Szzzooooow moment mentioned earlier. Cleverly, the melody is carried by a different synth voice but the guitar part sounds very similar to my ears, except that there is a coda that slowly progresses to a fade.
Normally I skip a few songs around this point and go to the finale. But it is difficult with Thief because of the variety and invention in every track. Here is an electronic soundtrack album with no filler. None.
So, we bustle on to ‘Scrap yard’, which has a fast baritone sequence and a short, catchy melody on top; there is another tasty Froese guitar solo too. Tangerine Dream and fellow German Klaus Schulze are sometimes called the fathers of Techno, and in this track you can hear why.
Penultimate track ‘Trap feeling’ is the only piece that actually sounds like film music. Slow, evocative and a little spooky; a nice change down of mood and pace before ‘Igneous’ rocks us towards the credits. But not immediately. It opens with a brooding synth line and some percussive electronic fireworks as energy and tension build, then back off. Some strange, vaguely wolf-like cries pierce the middle distance before a final surge and fade.
If I was sequencing Thief I’d place ‘Beach scene’ at the very end, to top and tail the album with its hummable theme, but other than that minor re-arrangement, I can find no criticisms at all. The keyboard playing is dextrous and inventive; thirty fingers working synthesiser magic. It may be that here we have progressive electronic music for those not usually drawn to either genre, mainly thanks to the psychedelic leavening of Froese’s fabulous guitar flashes. In sum, an absolute cracker of an album; one of the best in a long and rich discography from Tangerine Dream.
Want to catch up on the film soundtracks reviewed in the Film [Soundtrack] Festival?
They are all here.
We’ve had 18 posts from seven bloggers covering everything from martial arts to disco dancing, and films spanning seven decades. Stay tuned for more during the coming week.