Phaedra was the first album by Tangerine Dream to be released on Virgin Records and it seems that Richard Branson knew a thing or two about turning left of centre music into success. After Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells became so popular, Virgin Records were financially able to sign other interesting arty, underground acts in the middle of the seventies, including Henry Cow from 1973, Captain Beefheart from 1974 and CAN from 1975. They were establising themselves as an arty label and although a label needs a return for its investment, one wouldn’t imagine that Henry Cow were expected to knock, Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn off the top of the singles chart. But to everyone’s surprise when Virgin released Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, it rocketed to Number 15 in the British album chart, establishing the band in Britain and establishing Virgin as a very cool label.
Tangerine Dream had previously been signed to Ohr records in Germany and even though they had some success, the contract wasn’t renewed after the bands 4th album Atem, even though it was John Peel’s album of the year in 1973. The band now had a stable line-up of Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann and on this album they began to experiment with sequencers to great effect.
The first and title track is a hefty 17 minutes long (that’s Side 1) and starts like the opening to a sixties sci fi movie, this is truly space music. Next you hear the sequencer rising from the depths and growing into atmospheres that evoke otherworldly contact. The piece goes through various stages of analogue synthesisers with the sequencer continuous in the background. After 10 minutes the sequencer stops and we are back in the realms of soundtracks to space exploration and twin-sunned planets with strange plant life and fantastic beasts.
Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares opens Side 2 clocking in at 10 minutes and begins with the sound of children playing. Froese plays chord sequences on the mellotron with other analog synth effects surging into the track and then fading away. Electronic wind sounds and deep dark ambient soundscapes, evolving into imagined pictures conjured up by this magnificent instrument, eventually disappearing into gurgling volcanic pools..
Movements Of A Visionary is next – a mere 8 minutes, scurrying echoes like electronic insects turning into real birds and then sequenced moog and then strange organs and the pictures flood into your mind of microscopic amoebas dancing on the screen.
Sequent c is just over 2 minutes long, composed by Peter Baumann on flute and echo, almost medieval, music of the future inspired by the past.
This was the first album I owned by Tangerine Dream and I couldn’t imagine that an experimental band like this would go on to be so successful, releasing over 100 albums. This album is probably where you should start if you look at Tangerine Dream’s discography and are frustrated by the overwhelming choice of titles. Phaedra is a ground breaking album in the field of electronic music and would have a massive influence on future young bands raiding their parents record collections and reintroducing the genre.