Before LADYTRON or GOLDFRAPP, it was CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN who reigned as the original first lady of icy, feminine led Eurocentric avant-pop. As a keen collaborative artist, this compilation gathers together her various ComBinations with producers and musicians who included Trevor Horn, Stephen J Lipson, David Sylvian and the late John Uriel among many others.
Her classic PROPAGANDA tracks ‘Dr. Mabuse’, ‘Duel’ and ‘P.Machinery’ need no introduction. They still retain their Teutonic magnificence and cinematic surrealism. Together with Susanne Freytag, Michael Mertens and Ralf Dörper, the quartet are still remembered as ‘ABBA in hell’.
However, when Claudia formed ACT with Thomas Leer in 1987, there came a more playful, decadent glamour with political flirtations. ‘Snobbery & Decay’ was a warning about the effects of the Thatcher government while ‘Absolutely Immune’ was a commentary on the apathy of the nation at large with its “I’m alright Jack” selfishness.
Unfortunately, with the sentiment lost on a British public still drowned in blue emotion, the technological and theatrical marvels on the parent album ‘Laughter, Tears and Rage’ in 1988 were sadly unable to gain a foothold in a landscape dominated by the bland mid-Atlantic blue eyed soul and FM AOR that had become the requisites for the then brand new CD format!
Alas, ACT did not continue and Claudia signed a deal with Island Records for her 1991 album ‘Love: And A Million Other Things’. The wonderful ‘Kiss Like Ether’ recalls the rhythmical template of JON & VANGELIS’ ‘State Of Independence’ while her debut solo single ‘Absolut(E)’ is very Pascal Gabriel, the production dominated by his electronic dancefloor vibes.
The reaction to the album was strangely muted and Claudia took a career break to bring up her daughter Maddy, emerging only occasionally to record the odd guest vocal.
One of those included on ‘ComBined’ is ‘Light The Way’ with CHROME SEDUCTION, a percussively frantic club number that also saw the return of one of her former partners-in-crime Susanne Freytag. After an aborted reunion of PROPAGANDA in the latter half of the 90s, she accepted an invitation in 2000 to join OMD’s Paul Humphreys’ tour of the USA; one of the first recorded fruits of their partnership was a cover of ‘This Is Not America’ featuring FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s Paul Rutherford. A beautifully crafted synthesized tribute to DAVID BOWIE & THE PAT METHENY GROUP, although recorded in 2001 and shelved, it finally sees the light of day on ‘ComBined’.
Claudia formalised her musical partnership with Paul Humphreys and together they named themselves ONETWO. Open to collaboration with others, the song ‘Cloud 9ine’, co-written and featuring DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore, was the stand-out on their debut EP ‘Item’ released in 2004. But it was a few years before their first album was completed.
The crisp and moody ‘Instead’ finally emerged in 2007 and is represented on ‘ComBined’ by ‘Sequentia’, a toughened up remix by Paul Humphreys of the chilling East European flavoured highlight from that album. Finding herself in demand again, Claudia also joined ERASURE’s Andy Bell to sing on two tracks for his debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’. The pair became good friends and their chemistry is particularly evident on the energetic interplay of ‘Delicious’ which sees her in full and rare poptastic glory.
‘ComBined’ also features two brand new tracks produced by Stephen Hague whose credits include OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER, ERASURE, JIMMY SOMMERVILLE, DUBSTAR and A-HA. ‘Thank You’ is a fantastically moody epic driven by a trip-hop drum loop and swathed in Cold War atmospherics. Closer ‘Night School’ is a more uptempo, but is still classic Claudia with smooth layered textures and rich, minimal guitar melodics.
But for the bonus track encore, Claudia rejoins ZTT’s musical minimalist ANDREW POPPY with whom she recorded the fascinating ‘Another Language’ covers album. The new piano accompanied rework of ROY ORBISON’s ‘In Dreams’ retains the heartfelt drama of the original, but adds a slice of Weimar edginess to what has now become a rock’n’roll standard.
But the former though has been included on the iTunes version of the album in addition to PROPAGANDA’s cover of ‘Femme Fatale’ and a new ‘Geek Boy remix’ of her OCEANHEAD track ‘Eyemotion’ under the title of ‘Augenblick’.
There may be a case argued for her collaboration with HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory ‘When Your Heart Runs Out of Time’, although this is now available in its full glory on ZTT’s ‘The Art Of The 12 Inch’ compilation.
Overall, this is a superlative snapshot of one of Europe’s finest talents and a perfect introduction to her varied and influential musical catalogue.
‘ComBined’ is released by ZTT/Salvo on 7th February 2011.
On Wednesday 2nd March 2011 at London’s Scala, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & Friends will play a special concert to celebrate her career. Very special guests include HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware, ERASURE’s Andy Bell, PROPAGANDA’s Susanne Freytag, ANDREW POPPY and OMD’s Paul Humphreys.
Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th February 2011