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The best album of the 1980s,
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This review is from: A Secret Wish [25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)Well, this will be about the fifth time I've bought this album since it came out, but what a release this deluxe 25th anniversary edition is - sumptuous packaging, and that bonus disk full of hidden treasures...salivating? Me? Oh yeah!
Propaganda hit the UK singles charts once or twice back in the mid-80s, most notably with Duel, but never really achieved the domination they so richly deserved. On the radio, they sounded like nothing you'd ever heard before - post-punk pop with a synthetic sheen, richly layered with that strange continental European voice over the top. There was something going on with this band. The album, when it came out, was a revelation, taking the catchy pop promised by the singles and adding a darkness and menace - you knew this was something special the moment you heard it, and it felt like stumbling upon a secret cabal; this wasn't music for your ordinary Joe.
The album starts with the pounding, relentless drum program of Dream Within a Dream, with that spoken word poem read by Suzanne Freytag, from Edgar Allen Poe (what other band in the world would open an album with a near ten minute poem?) The poignant, almost reflective Murder of Love is next, the calm before the crashing industrial storm of Jewel, before it morphs via a wonderful suspended synth-string chord into its prettier sister, Duel. Once heard, never forgotten.
The shimmering, gurgling percussion of Frozen Faces comes next, a track which was left off the cassette and LP versions of the original release. It's a cracker - a whomping great bassline kicks in towards the end, pushing aside the disquieting conversational murmur and the dreamy panpipes that permeate the start of the track. One box for optimism.
p:Machinery was another track released as a single. This is Propaganda at their finest - the brass riff courtesy of the Big Bath Brass Boys that could knock a battleship out of the water, the wonderfully disturbing lyrics evoking a future where sweet science reigns and the machines have taken over. The call of the machine, indeed. In joyless lanes, we walk in line.
As with the original release we next have The Chase and the wry humour of Sorry For Laughing, a cover of a Josef K song that the group had been playing live since their early days, and finally a ten minute mix of Dr Mabuse, but this 25th anniversay release then slides back into alternative versions of Dream Within A Dream, Jewel and Duel, p:Machinery and the "First Life" mix of Dr. Mabuse, before finishing with the hymnal The Last Word (Strength To Dream), which completes the song cycle and neatly closes off with a line from the opening song, "Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?"
If that was all this release had given us I'd be happy, but there's a second disk running more than 72 minutes with all manner of delights pulled from the vaults and the dark minds of Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson. Do Well (Do Well/Jewel/Duel - geddit?) is a very rarely heard 20 minute mix of Duel, pulling together various elements from the Wishful Thinking remixes, the original mixes and a splash of new sounds. Some new tracks are mixed in amongst the rare remixes, perhaps the best of which are Die Tausend Augen Des Mabuse and (Echo of) Frozen Faces. The new tracks are thrillingly good, and the alternative versions of the known tracks are top notch - in some cases not that different to existing 12" releases, but worth repeated listening all the same. Some of the tracks are in fact pretty much exactly the same as known releases - the same length, with the same instrumentation, just slight differences in the balance of each track and a little extra delay or reverb here and there on the vocals. It's fun to listen out for the differences, though.
The obligatory booklet is included in the CD slip case, and in this case it's actually pretty good - Andrew Harrison's mini essay is enlightening, though his English occasionally lets him down ("other country's music"?), and Ian Peel's archival notes on the extra tracks are great. A few new (to me, at least) promotional photos from the early days are included too.
Is this the end of the Propaganda story? Legend has it that they were severely ripped off by ZTT, earning barely a penny from this album despite it selling strongly and consistently over the past 25 years. Occasional resurfacings of various band members only tantalised; the 1234 era with Betsi Miller singing, and Michael Mertens the only original member present, was largely forgettable apart from the adrenaline rush of the single Heaven Give Me Words. The original band got back together several times in the studio to write and record; an entire album was produced back in 2002 but was ditched without being released (though it can be found on the internet if you search hard enough). Most intriguing of all was the 12" single Valley of The Machine Gods (could that title sound any more perfectly Propaganda-ish?) from 2005, a sublime, haunting, frankly creepy semi-instrumental song that was released in very limited quantities, supposedly the first of four similar 12" singles, but again the band disappeared without trace afterwards. That release held such promise, and showed that the magic could come back again, but I doubt we'll ever see anything from the band in the future, unless there are further tracks to be pulled out of the vaults (live recordings from the Outside World tour exist, and live performances from TV shows like The Tube). Still, if this 25th anniversary edition of A Secret Wish is all they leave us with, can we ask for more? The sheer Teutonic splendour of this album will likely echo on down the ages, making new fans with every year of its life, and so it should.
Heed the call of the machine. You know you want to. Resistance is futile...