on 30 September 2010
Yes, you heard right! Forget about Frankie Goes To Hollywood or even the Art Of Noise, the honour of most sublime recording ever released on Zang Tuum Tumb goes to Teutonic Synthpop Situationists Propaganda! From hearing their first hit (The Nine Lives Of) Dr. Mabuse blaring ominously from the radio chart rundown back in them far off days of early 1984, I was perturbed, intrigued, then ultimately hooked. No other top 30 record at the time grabbed me by the 'nads like this one did - all foreboding menace, propulsive, crashing drums, huge synth fanfares and strident vocals. The album that followed surely had to be a bit special.
And blow me, when it arrived a year later, was it just! Herrs Ralf Dorper and Michael Mertens, along with Frauleins Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag have fashioned a colossal symphonic suite of Wagnerian pop melodramas that, at that time, could surely move mountains!
Beginning with Susanne Freytag's choice quotations from Edgar Allen Poe (which, funnily enough also opened the credits to John Carpenter's eerie creepy classic horror yarn The Fog a couple of years earlier), the first track Dream Within A Dream unravels like a proper spaghetti western theme tune, cantering along at a steady ambient pace accompanied by Freytag's ongoing narrative before all manner of discordance that's been simmering underneath breaks to the surface, disrupting the track midway with guitar solos, frantic drum-breaks and the rest before some sort of calm is regained once more. An absolute MONSTER of an opening track and one of the best curtain-raisers to any album ever.
What distinguished A Secret Wish from other albums released at the same time was that there were two distinct versions - one on vinyl and one on CD. The CD version featured longer, different mixes of some of its tracks, and it's this latter one which kicks off this new 25th Anniversary edition - the shorter original album version ushers in the bonus tracks from 10 onwards.
There isn't a single weak track on the original album (be it the vinyl OR CD version!) as it's consistently strong material throughout. However, special mention has to be given to the ingenious pairing of the second hit single Duel, programmed here alongside its evil twin flip Jewel. The Two Sides Of Propaganda - The Definitive, certainly: summed up succinctly with these two songs: both essentially the same song, but one relentlessly harsh and abrasive (Jewel) whilst the other is gentle and melodic (the radio-friendly A-side). Most definitely a case of Yin and Yang....
The colossal 10+ minute [CD] mix of Dr. Mabuse is as definitive a statement of intent as you're ever going to get with this band...but even here they get clever and sneakily segue straight into The Last Word (Strength To Dream) for the final couple of minutes. By contrast, both these songs stand as separate tracks on the vinyl version - Dr. Mabuse being 5 minutes shorter.....
And that's just the first disc! The second features different takes, 12" mixes of the various album tracks and the stupendous 20 minute cassette mix of Duel/Jewel/Wonder/Bejewelled just to further one's listening pleasure. These extra 11 tracks take the running time to 72 minutes....
However! One glaring omission stops this 2CD set from being THE most perfect and essential reissue this year: and that's the inexplicable (some would say unforgivable?) absence of the superb cover of the Velvet's Femme Fatale (subtitled The Woman With The Orchid) along with the truly schizoid and disturbing Bernard Herrman-like strings deconstruction of the uncredited track which follows it on the original 12" B-side of Dr. Mabuse. These two tracks would still fit on the CD and take the running time to just under 79 minutes. Perhaps it might be because Femme Fatale was already issued on the [now deleted] alternative Propaganda versions compilation Outside World (2002) that justified its exclusion here...?
Whatever..... anybody who hasn't heard this seminal album should do the decent thing and get hold of it now. It's true that a lot of the early to mid-80s synth pop stuff has dated rather badly be it in the sounds of the instrumentation or the samey generic production values of the time (lots of reverb and flanging, Fairlight/ Linn drum programming etc), but this is one release that hasn't gone that way mercifully - sounding as fresh and vital today as it did all of 25 long years ago.
Get this now - and lose yourself in its huge all-encompassing widescreen enormity. Believe it my dears, this is one of the greatest debut albums ever. Kein Zuruck Für Dich - indeed!!!
on 17 March 2011
This record still sounds ahead of it's time. ABC and Scritti around 84/85- Astute use Fairlights and endless tinkering in the studio where technological advancements aroused creative possibilities and music that will date well. Cupid and Zillionaire have more than made their mark.
Secret Wish is another matter. It's conception of creative divisions and gestation are remarkable and make's a good short read in the linear notes but perhaps it's best not too analyse too much.
But in one way it's great that this was the only real Propaganda album (1234 being part of the bigger picture) as the sequenced build up, from the edgy calmness of "A Dream Within A Dream" to rising tension throughout and towards the Masterpiece Dr. Mabuse feels complete- a (No 27 in 1984)- A hit for those days and all the more remarkably, a distinct in synth pop terms (81-84) the greatest hit that doesn't have a chorus, and along with "Duel" are contenders as the most dynamic in terms of voluptuous and exciting remodellings of the 80s'.(remixes seems an unsatifactory term in this context). Disc 2 retains the quality- each remodel feels like a necessary addition to the oeuvre.
The fact is this album hasn't dated and Secret Wish given the financial expense of its production and creative/artistic mutation is something that sadly seems unlikely to be repeated seldom or soon.
Did Propaganda implode too soon? ABC and Frankie as Trevor Horn produced artists, strived forward, with variable results, Propaganda made their statement and (effectively) that was that -almost too perfect.
on 14 July 2007
One of my favourite albums, but unfortunately the CD version contains remixes of some of the songs that were on the original cassette version, and the cassette versions are better, so you might want to look around for the cassette as well.
When you compare the brilliance of this to the rubbish that's in the charts nowadays, it's like chalk and cheese.
Buy this album if you like anything from the 80s, preferably the cassette version...
on 17 July 2001
I first bought this album on vinyl - waaaayyyyy before cds became available. I wore it out pretty soon - such was the playing it recieved. So, I now have the cd and I can quite honestly say it has never strayed far from my player. A haunting, life-affirming, deliciously-melodic collection of songs. Buy it - you won't be disappointed!
on 25 September 2010
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...
on 1 July 2003
Once in a lifetime an album comes along that totally blows you away and this was the one for me. I've owned the album on vinyl for some time and have now decided to buy it on cd for posterity.
If you are a long lived Propaganda fan then I need not say anymore as you will no doubt have this album and hopefully like me rate it as the best. If your not familiar with the group then buy this album now!
On first play - listen to it alone, in a dark room, with head phones on - you'll be hooked!
A SECRET WISH: every song flawlessly produced by TREVOR HORN and one of the few completely successful new wave electro-pop albums of the mid-eighties. Even now, some 25 years later - having hard-wired itself into my musical DNA after just one rotation - it still has the capacity to impress on so many levels. The vocals, for example, sung in English by CLAUDIA BRUCKEN, are given a distinctive edge by simple virtue of her native Teutonic phrasing, and it suits the material to perfection. Of course, the sound is unmistakeably European but any undiluted comparisons to KRAFTWERK or IRMIN SCHMIDT end there; Trevor Horn's English pop sensibility has fashioned a hybrid which is altogether more exciting. And this is no fluke; he worked similar magic two years earlier on PHILIP JAP's superb SAVE US.
THE STRENGTH TO DREAM
and DREAM WITHIN A DREAM
THE MURDER OF LOVE
SORRY FOR LAUGHING
Pounding rhythm and pristine melody; a raft of sequenced synths and unexpectedly affecting string arrangements; a fixed point where the sounds of industrial wastelands meet their equal but opposite numbers in the form of lush, painted pastures: the very principles of music for pleasure. Well, mine at least. A Secret Wish is one of those defining albums of a time long gone...yet it remains utterly, unequivocally contemporary. And the joy of that particular contradiction will always hold true.
Simply play very loud and let the sheer force of PROPAGANDA (overwhelmingly) win you over.
VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Until now, it has actually escaped my attention that at the time of its initial release there were two different versions of this classic album: one for vinyl and one for CD. Disc 1 of the re-issue includes all the tracks from both - which probably makes it an essential purchase. Another (surprising) thing I didn't know about "A Secret Wish", as pointed out in the booklet: David Sylvian was the original choice for producer. Sylvian is also noted as a contributor along with, amongst others. Yes's Steve Howe, Stewart Copeland of The Police and Glenn Gregory.
However, much of the sonic beauty of this record came from the production and mixing talents of Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn respectively, both of whom are less heavily involved in the second disc - which contains way too many remixes by Paul Morley. Isn't that a bit like having Tony Wilson remix a New Order LP? It's OK, but personally I would have preferred it if more of the previously released 12" mixes could have been included - after all, the ZTT label were early pioneers of the 12" remix.
"A Secret Wish" was one of the first CD's I ever bought and one of the very few releases to do that format justice in its early days. It's good to have it back courtesy of this re-issue, although for me the first disc would have sufficed. That said, at the currently listed Amazon price, it is, in any event, a bit of a bargain.
on 23 September 2010
I loved this album when it came out. I was on holiday in Cornwall, aged 15, the same week as Live Aid and The Cure releasing 'In Between Days' - so it was a more eventful time than I thought. I listened to it endlessly, it was a perfect album, with a beginning, middle and end. Over time, I stopped listening to cassettes, and didn't hear it for a while, until in the mid-90's I bought the CD version, and thought that my ears must be playing tricks on me. I was so disappointed, this didn't sound like the masterpiece I had in my mind. And now I now why! It wasn't even the same album. Comparing the first 2 minutes of the first track tells you everything you need to know. It's not a case of slightly being mixed differently, but almost a completely different song! This version is punchy and driven, while the original CD was noodly and ambient. If you like great 80's music (early Human League, Black Celebration era- Depeche Mode, ABC's Lexicon of Love), then you need this version in your collection. Completely brilliant! A true one-off, that was never repeated, or even copied.
on 13 September 2010
Now, this is the 7th time I am actually buying these 8 songs that was all Propagande ever recorded (9 songs if we include Femme Fatale, but more about that one later...)
The vinyl, the cd (with different Dream mix), the remix vinyl, the cd version of the vinyl version, the remix cd, the Outside World cd, and now:
The Ultimate edition of the World's Greatest Album by the World's Greatest (but shortlived) Pop Group.
The package is glorious; I would have liked some more unseen photos....Claudia in the dark recesses of Sarm Underground, Suzanne polishing her black leather cap or sinking her teeth into Trevor Horn's neck, Ralph reading Aleister Crowley and maybe even Michael actually playing an instrument!?
I won't comment on the songs we all know and love, the production still sounds fresh and modern, the extra bits are nice to have for us completists, but but but.....
Femme Fatale is missing, so this is NOT the only album to bring to the bunker when World War III comes along..
Perhaps ZTT saves that one for the 50th anniversary edition? :-)