Tag: ZTT (Page 1 of 4)

A Beginner’s Guide To ANDY RICHARDS

Photo by Lizzy Ellis

Producer, keyboardist and composer Andy Richards may not be as widely known as his mentor Trevor Horn, but listeners have certainly heard his work as a significant number his contributions appear on singles that reached No1.

Born in 1952, Richards studied piano, classical organ piano and composition at The Royal College Of Music and The Royal Academy Of Music. After graduating, he taught music at South Cheshire College and began playing in various local bands before in 1977, he joined the folk-rockers THE STRAWBS who were best known for their hit ‘Part Of The Union’.

After THE STRAWBS split up in 1980, Richards became a session musician and in 1983 played keyboards for the heavy metal band DEMON who were signed to Clay Records, a Stoke-based independent record label. It had been established by Mike ‘Clay’ Stone who had been a champion of punk, taking early photographs of Gary Numan which appeared on the first TUBEWAY ARMY releases before later signing DISCHARGE and THE LURKERS to Clay.

It was via Clay Records that Andy Richards was to get his big break. Stone invited Richards to produce the debut of local synthpop trio WHITE DOOR who had morphed out of the prog band GRACE. Mixed at Sarm East Studios, the engineer was Julian Mendelsohn who was also working with Trevor Horn on the YES album ‘90125’.

With recommendations from Mendelsohn, Richards was then contacted by both. Although he auditioned for YES, he chose to work with Trevor Horn in October 1983; his first job was to play keyboards on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD cover of ‘Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey’ and subsequently the eventual single version of ‘Relax’ which featured Richards’ European sounding Roland Jupiter 8 chords while another key element he provided was the huge orgasmic sound at the song’s climax!

Working as part Trevor Horn’s dream team that included engineer Stephen Lipson and Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik, the world became Richards’ oyster with significant roles on the notable ZTT albums ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’, ‘A Secret Wish’ and ‘Slave to the Rhythm’.

A master of the Roland Jupiter 8, Roland MC4 Micro-composer, PPG and Oberheim DMX, Richards became in demand as musician, programmer and producer, thanks to his astute investment in the Fairlight Series III in 1984; this was a particularly useful production tool as the artists he worked with could easily understand its concept easily as all its 16 tracks and their relationship in real time could be seen on screen at once.

Having dipped his toe into the world of cinema in 1986 with ‘Biggles: Adventures in Time’, the bulk of Richards’ more recent work has been in mixing film scores from his own Out of Eden digital complex, including ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, ‘Ali G Indahouse’, ‘Johnny English’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘The Last King of Scotland’, ‘Hannibal Rising’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Frankenweenie’. He has more recently been working on his first solo project entitled ‘This Time… An Imaginary Soundtrack’

Perhaps something of an unsung hero in music, here are 18 tracks that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK has selected from the vast career of Andy Richards with a restriction of one track per artist moniker, assembled in chronological order…


WHITE DOOR Jerusalem (1983)

With shades of ALPHAVILLE who Andy Richards would later work with, the beautiful choir boy synthpop of ‘Jerusalem’ was one of the highlights of the ‘Windows’ album. “We would turn up at Andy’s house with very basic demos and spend long days with him on his mini grand piano working out the arrangements and programming…” said WHITE DOOR singer Mac Austin about the releationship with their producer.

Available on the WHITE DOOR album ‘Windows’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/whitedoorband


PROPAGANDA Dr Mabuse (1984)

‘Dr Mabuse’ was the impressionistic masterpiece slated that was the debut single by PROPAGANDA, at the time a Düsseldorf-based five piece. Produced by Trevor Horn in the days before MIDI, Richards’ work involved spending days in the studio connecting up two Roland Jupiter 8s, two Roland MC4 Micro-composers, three Oberheim DMXs and a Roland TR808 to JJ Jeczalik’s Fairlight Series II.

Available on the PROPAGANDA album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Salvo

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/


FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD Two Tribes (1984)

As FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s eagerly awaited follow-up to ‘Relax, ‘Two Tribes’ sent the Cold War paranoia of the times into overdrive. Richards’ blistering bassline sequence was programmed multiple times with differing feels, eventually settling on a hard PPG bass sample doubled with a slightly softer sequence from a Synclavier. The end result acted as a leadline and tribal powerhouse.

Available on the FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD album ‘Bang!’ via Salvo

https://www.frankiesay.com/


GEORGE MICHAEL Careless Whisper – Full length version (1984)

Although George Michael’s debut solo single was characterised by a fluid sax solo by Steve Gregory, when the WHAM! singer opted to produce ‘Careless Whisper’ himself after an abortive session with Jerry Wexler, he invited to Richards to overdub a chilling string synth intro and voice samples using a PPG Waveterm A. It would become the third No1 of 1984 on which Richards performed.

Available on the WHAM! album ‘Make In Big’ via Sony Music

https://www.frankiesay.com/


THE ADVENTURES Send My Heart – Extended remix (1984)

Belfast’s THE ADVENTURES were one of the first bands to be managed by pop Svengali Simon Fuller and on the back of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s success came remix and session work for Richards. His extended remix of the sprightly ‘Send My Heart’ included additional keyboard flourishes, a new voice sample solo section and drum breakdowns while keeping the song intact.

Available on THE ADVENTURES album ‘Theodore & Friends’ via Lemon Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/219292-The-Adventures


STEPHEN ‘TIN TIN’ DUFFY Kiss Me (1985)

‘Kiss Me’ had been originally released by Stephen Duffy’s band TIN TIN in 1982. Reissued in several incarnations, the Fairlight heavy hit version was produced by Nicholas Froome and JJ Jeczalik who brought Richards in along with Danny Schogger to provide musicality to the various sample derived gimmicks used. Duffy would later become the writing partner of Robbie Williams and ‘Kiss Me’ would be covered in 2006.

Available on the STEPHEN DUFFY album ‘The Ups & Downs’ via Cherry Red Records

http://stephenduffy.com/


TRIO Ready For You (1985)

Germany’s TRIO became known worldwide for their novelty song ‘Da Da Da’. Much more aggressive than their big hit, the expletive laden sexually charged ‘Ready For You’ was a co-production by Richards and JJ Jeczalik alongside Klaus Voormann, the noted musician who also worked on all the TRIO albums as well as with Lou Reed and was the graphic designer of THE BEATLES ‘Revolver’.

Available on the TRIO album ‘Whats The Password’ via Mercury Records

http://www.stephan-remmler.de/


GRACE JONES SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM (1985)

Not the familiar groovy Go-Go hit single version that became Grace Jones’ signature tune, but a more aggressive take with big beats, rumbles and swoops actually designated “5. SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM” on the same titled album, Andy Richards’ distinct chord interventions can be heard in the brassy synth stabs. The song had been originally demoed by FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD in an uptempo fashion.

Available on the GRACE JONES album ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ via Island Records

https://www.gracejones.com/


BERLIN You Don’t Know (1986)

Although effectively a solo Terri Nunn track produced by Giorgio Moroder, ‘Take My Breath Away’ was issued as a BERLIN single and became a worldwide hit. The sultry art rock follow-up ‘You Don’t Know’ was primarily produced by Richards but the band were unhappy with their sojourn in London for their new album and scrapped their recordings with him, bar this.

Available on the BERLIN album ‘Best Of 1977 – 1988’ via Geffen Records

https://www.berlinpage.com/


NIK KERSHAW Radio Musicola (1986)

Credited with “Keyboards, Computers” for the first song of Nik Kershaw’s self-produced third album, the title track saw Richards’ Fairlight Series III programming take a central role emulating LEVEL 42’s Mark King style of bass playing. A cautionary warning about mass-produced run-of-the-mill pop music, ‘Radio Musicola’ also featured a brass section and  Iva Davies of ICEHOUSE on backing vocals.

Available on the NIK KERSHAW album ‘Essential’ via Universal Music

https://www.nikkershaw.net/


PET SHOP BOYS Heart – Single mix (1988)

Originally recorded with Shep Pettibone with Madonna in mind, having programmed the Fairlight on ‘Always On My Mind’, ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Rent’, Andy Richards was asked to produce a new version of ‘Heart’ in a classic disco vein for the ’Actually’ album. A re-edited version mixed by Julian Mendelsohn featuring extra wah-wah guitar by JJ Belle gave PET SHOP BOYS another UK No1 single.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Smash – The Singles 1985 – 2020’ via EMI Music

https://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


PREFAB SPROUT Hey Manhattan (1988)

Have achieved their breakthrough with the Thomas Dolby produced ‘Steve McQueen’, the East Anglian electronics boffin was unable to work on the entire follow-up album ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’ so other producers were sought. Richards did ‘Hey Manhattan’ but band leader Paddy McAloon later remarked “I’m dissatisfied with the way we realised it. It’s pretty but it’s a failure”.

Available on the PREFAB SPROUT album ‘From Langley Park To Memphis’ via Sony Music

https://www.sproutology.co.uk/


HOLLY JOHNSON Americanos (1989)

Co-produced by Andy Richards and Steve Lovell with Dan Hartman, ‘Americanos’ was a catchy Latin tinged number complete with Mariachi horns that saw Holly Johnson achieve a second solo No4 hit. Despite being aspirational in tone, the former FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD singer provided an ironic observation of the widespread discrimination against the Hispanic community in the USA.

Available on the HOLLY JOHNSON album ‘Blast’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.hollyjohnson.com/


FUZZBOX Pink Sunshine (1989)

Outrageously catchy, ‘Pink Sunshine’ was the best single from the alternative rock band once known as WE’VE GOT A FUZZBOX & WE’RE GONNA USE IT!! Reinventing themselves as a sexy pop vocal group for their second album ‘Big Bang!’ produced by Andy Richards, their first hit came with the ‘Thunderbirds’ inspired ‘International Rescue’ while ‘Self’ featuring QUEEN’s Brian May provided a third.

Available on the FUZZBOX album ‘Big Bang!’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialFuzzbox


MALCOLM McLAREN & THE BOOTZILLA ORCHESTRA House Of The Blue Danube (1989)

In tribute to New York’s voguing scene, ‘Waltz Darling’ was Malcolm McLaren’s fourth album, fusing Johann Strauss with funk and house. It spawned the hit ‘Something’s Jumpin’ in Your Shirt’ but opening it was the mad if joyous instrumental ‘House of the Blue Danube’. Produced by Richards, it featured Bootsy Collins and Jeff Beck within a pumping “Frankie Say Strauss” backdrop.

Available on the MALCOLM McLAREN & THE BOOTZILLA ORCHESTRA album ‘Waltz Darling’ via Epic Records

https://www.malcolmmclaren.com/


DUSTY SPRINGFIELD Reputation (1990)

Having played keyboards on Liza Minnelli’s ‘Results’ album with PET SHOP BOYS, for a similar project this time with Dusty Springfield, while Messrs Tennant and Lowe produced half the ‘Reputation’ album, Richards was assigned the title song written by Brian Spence. Although overshadowed by the hits ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ and ‘In Private’, the end result was a production of equal quality.

Available on the DUSTY SPRINGFIELD album ‘Reputation’ via Cherry Red Records

https://www.dustyspringfield.co.uk/


OMD All That Glitters (1991)

By 1988, advances in computer technology and software had made the Fairlight redundant. But Richards was sticking with his warhorse, causing tensions when working with Andy McCluskey on his new solo OMD by recreating what was on the demos formulated on a MIDI-compatible Atari. But the elegiac ‘Sugar Tax’ album closer ‘All That Glitters’ managed to capture the OMD magic of old.

Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


ALPHAVILLE Wishful Thinking (1997)

Produced by Andy Richards, ALPHAVILLE’s fifth album ‘Salvation’ came as the trio fragmented, leaving Marian Gold and Bernhard Lloyd to helm the ship. Energetic gothic dance music, ‘Wishful Thinking’ had a dramatic presence reminiscent of ‘Forever Young’, aided by a string arrangement by Anne Dudley which provided plenty of pomp and circumstance.

Available on the ALPHAVILLE album ‘Salvation’ via WEA Records

https://www.alphaville.earth/


More information on Andy Richards and ‘This Time… An Imaginary Soundtrack’ can be found at http://www.andyrichards.com/

The June 1988 Music Technology article ‘Programmer’s Protocol’ on Andy Richards was a key reference and can be read via the mu:zines music magazine archive at http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/programmers-protocol/1104


Text by Chi Ming Lai
28 August 2023

ANDREW POPPY Interview

Andrew Poppy is the post-minimal composer who was part of the first wave of ZTT artists with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD and PROPAGANDA.

He began in music by playing bass in a progressive rock band before Bartok, Debussy, Cage, Feldman, Riley, Glass and Reich and musique concrète pointed to further possibilities. He studied music at Kingsway’s College and Goldsmiths College, London University, graduating in 1979, while attending a summer school with John Cage himself along the way.

Having been a member of minimalist ensemble THE LOST JOCKEY, Poppy signed to ZTT, releasing his first solo record ‘The Beating of Wings’ in 1985. His second album ‘Alphabed’ brought in a Fairlight, the first Akai samplers and vocals from Annette Peacock. Poppy also provided the orchestral arrangements on ERASURE’s ‘Two Ring Circus’ and to NITZER EBB’s ‘I Give To You’ from the ‘Ebbhead’ album.

In 2005, Poppy partnered up with Claudia Brücken for ‘Another Language’, a collection of cover versions using minimal instrumentation featuring songs by solo artists such as Kate Bush, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithful, David Bowie, Elvis Costello and Elvis Presley as well bands including RADIOHEAD, ASSOCIATES and THE PIXIES. That same year, a boxed set of all Poppy’s recordings for ZTT including an unreleased album ‘Under The Son’ was issued.

Poppy’s vast portfolio has also seen scores for theatre, opera, film, contemporary dance and art installations, but his latest project sees him adopt the Mister Poppy persona for an avant-garde vocal experiment entitled ‘JELLY’. “Jelly is like time. Jelly fits any mould. It resists the sentimentality of form” he says, “Jelly is a state of putrefaction before dust. Jelly is the most vulnerable of the body’s materials. You have to crack the nut of the protective skull to reach the meat of the jelly brain. Yum, so this is the seat of understanding and awareness. Yum! ‘I see’ is also ‘I hear you’, locating and judging the proximity of that other juicy presence. Yum!”

Andrew Poppy kindly talked with ELECRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about ‘JELLY’ and a lot more…

Your new album ‘JELLY’ is in 5 parts each around 12 minutes long, has the time duration got any specific significance?

Yes, I think there is something mysterious about 12. The 12 months of the year and the day is divided into two twelve-hour halves. It’s kind of arbitrary, so why does the midnight hour have such significance? It’s when we all turn into pumpkins. Cinderella must leave the ball. Everyone gets drunk on New Year’s Eve, we sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and kiss strangers. I wanted to have a way of chopping up a continuous hour of music into equal parts. There are lots of possibilities, but 5 x 12 minutes seemed suggestive. It’s a practical thing, an invisible grid that maybe takes on those mysterious powers through repetition.

You have used your voice prominently on this album, is this why you have introduced the Mister Poppy persona?

I just watched the series ‘Godless’. It’s a contemporary western. One of the main characters, who is both good and bad, is called Roy Good. He goes over to the bad side for a while but gradually makes his way back to the light. Then along the way, there comes a point when he understands what’s at stake and by chance his name gets changed to Mr Ward.

His new name protects him somehow. The narrative is more complex than that, but that’s the basic outline. I’m not hiding from something like Roy Good, but the composing and performing ‘selves’ are different.

For some reason, a number of my friends call me Mister Poppy. So, it’s a christening of sorts and because this is the first time I’ve made a completely vocal album where it’s all my voice. It’s been coming for while though and is there in the three records that precede ‘JELLY’, particularly ‘Hoarse Songs’ and ‘Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling’.

There is this minimal bass and heavy sense of foreboding looming on the first two pieces ‘Tattoo / Copy Something That You Love’ and ‘Mister Post-Man / No More Fumbling In The Dark’? What’s happening there?

I think the bass sound absorbs some of the anxiety in the language somehow. Sounds are very absorbent. The gunpowder of a firework can be exciting as it cracks and splinters, but gunshots and explosions in real life are terrifying I’m sure.

At the beginning of ‘JELLY 1: Tattoo’, the speaking voice is trying to stop the tick of the clock. But then it changes. Is the speaker – me perhaps – being tattooed by you and also, are you being tattooed by me? There’s a mutual seduction. It has an erotic edge. The voice could be talking about a tattooing pact or a conversation or some sensuous love-making thing that’s happening over a long period of time between two friends or lovers. The sung part ends with the words “a letter to the one you love”. I’m hoping that it’s hopeful.

‘JELLY 2: Mister Post-Man / No More Fumbling In The Dark’ picks up on that idea of the messages that get sent and what we expect in the mail. The love letters and the disappointments in the messages you receive.

The first part of ‘There Is A Walk We Can Make’ could be like SUICIDE if it had been attached to a drum machine and arranged in a more synth-punk rock fashion… but what was the genesis of this track and how it developed?

All the’ JELLY’ electronic tracks were made a few years before the texts. I started by making five electronic pulses at different tempos / BPM. The pulse was divided into two, like the day, with an on-beat and off-beat. Like the bass drum hi-hat in dance music or the hocket technique in Louis Andriessen’s Hocketus.

Your SUICIDE idea is great. I should do it. I really like it when an artist does two versions of a song which aren’t remixes. THE BEATLES’ two versions of ‘Revolution’ are fascinating. And there are two versions of UNDERWORLD’s ‘Ring Road’.

My connection with punk drum-machine music would be UNDERWORLD, particularly ‘Second Toughest In The Infants’ and LCD SOUNDSYSTEM. But they are not as minimal as SUICIDE and perhaps the vocals aren’t as sweet.

I go through periods of scribbling poems and phrases and prose-poem type things. They just come somehow. ‘There Is A Walk We Can Make’ was written in the middle of the night. I started remembering the first trip I made with Julia (Bardsley), my partner, and it spiralled off into exploring what it means to be in a different country. The different food and ways of doing things, attitudes to sensuality, love and violence.

I’ve just released a radio edit of ‘There is a Walk We Can Make’ with a video by Julia. It’s on YouTube and Bandcamp.

The synth solo on ‘A General Choosing / Feather in The Flames’ sounds like it might be about to break into Jean-Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene 5’? Is that a coincidence?

It’s a good connection but it wasn’t intended. I think Jean-Michel Jarre must have been influenced by Terry Riley’s 60s album ‘A Rainbow In Curved Air’. That’s what I hear in those keyboard lines and patterns. That album and Riley’s approach to repetition, improvisation and pattern making were an inspiration for me as well when I heard it in the very early 70s. I’ve performed Riley, Glass and Reich and in doing that I learnt a different way of composing. A different way from writing songs or sonatas.

The part you mention is a transition between the ‘A General Choosing’ spoken text and the sung ‘Feather In The Flames’ lyric. It’s played on a classic 60s instrument, the Wurlitzer 200 electric piano, that I bought in the 70s. It’s processed with an overdrive pedal, live, so it sounds much more electronic, especially in a reverb.

‘On The Back Of The Seat in Front of Me’ is a poem set to a piano mantra with a classically oriented interlude, what was the idea behind it?

The idea of the poem was a response to all the photographs on the inner sleeve of my first album, ‘The Beating of Wings’. I wrote the text for a staged-version of ‘The Beating of Wings’ that was presented at the Capstone Theatre, Liverpool in 2017.

Back in 1985, I carefully chose the photographs for the album because I wanted to suggest the connections and the spaces between writing something, the performing of it, the recording of it and the audience’s role in all that. So, the text starts off talking about what a vinyl record is as a physical thing. As the title suggests, with certain caveats, ‘The Beating of Wings’ album was some kind of “take-off” moment for me.

What I like about the piano on this track is that it connects with the piano on ‘Goodbye Mr G’ on my second album ‘Alphabed’. The piano floats in and out. It’s not really a solo. It could be a minimalist piano piece or a sample of one.

Is there a particular track from ‘JELLY’ which gives you the most satisfaction?

Dave Meegan made the final mixes. We talked about the details in a lot of depth. Sometimes the doubts I had were things that really needed attention and at other times, they were just a nervous self-consciousness. It’s a life saver working with someone you trust.

Without it, some doubts escalate and start to unravel what you’ve made. In some ways it’s a creative thing. Tearing it down and starting again can be good. You get another piece. Other times you realise, much later, that the original version was OK.

But once it’s done and mastered and art-worked, it is what it is. Until… scratch, scratch, scratch, those doubts… Some moments on ‘There is a Walk We Can Make’ began to itch. That is until Philip Marshall, who designed the CD, told me it was his favourite track. So, finally, I could relax.

Actually, the whole project, as a complete thing, gives me the biggest buzz. It’s one piece in 5 parts. The co-ordinating of all the elements has its up and down moments. When I was working on ‘JELLY’, I saw an exhibition of large Rauschenberg paintings called ‘Nightshades & Phantoms’. They are a collage of photographic images screen-printed onto brushed aluminium. The way the images are buried in the material somehow gave me permission. I saw some analogue with what I was doing. I’m pleased with the way ‘JELLY’ sounds and flows, especially after the brilliant mastering by Stephan Mathieu.

Is making music more straightforward for you these days compared with back in the day? What are your favourite tools?

Maybe it is more straightforward now, in that I have accepted I like to do things in different ways. I’ve been restless from the beginning.

I like to start in a different place with each new project. I use pencil and paper to notate things, sometimes from the get-go. But sometimes, once the piece has been built in the studio, notation gives me a more detached perspective on the pitches and rhythms. So, near the end of making ‘JELLY’, when all the tracks and the vocals were done, I notated the vocals and made myself a score for each piece. The score helps me to move things around and to understand how the musical space is working.

Another tool is the studio. I want to let the technology into the creative game. Back in the day, the studio was a building with an engineer and a tape op / assistant and a technical department who fix things when they break. And in some studios, like Sarm West, a kitchen and a Jamaican chef who cooks the most amazing chicken, rice and plantain! The point is, now, the studio is a piece of software that you can even use on your phone, on the train. That’s definitely more straightforward.

I like being able to get up and go straight into my studio and pick up what I was doing the day before. It’s also a bit like getting up having coffee and going to the piano and playing stuff for a couple of hours. It may be a new piece I’m working on, or it may be doing stuff by other people. The last year or so I’ve been bashing through the Philip Glass piano etudes. They have such amazing energy. Like Jerry Lee Lewis or Barrel House. They’re actually quite bawdy. So, the piano is the original creative tool for me. I doodle around on the keyboard because notation can seem too complicated and takes me away from making a sound.

How do you think you have developed as an artist since your first two ZTT albums ‘The Beating Of Wings’ and ‘Alphabed (A Mystery Dance)’?

The question goes to the heart of it somehow. ‘JELLY’ is a small break-through moment. I’m feeling more comfortable with performance. I don’t have to think about identity. It’s out of my hands anyway.

I don’t have to decide between being a composer or playing the piano or singing or making a record. I can feel they are all legitimate because it’s what I’m doing.

Going back to the question about the name Mister Poppy – it’s a bit like the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote under lots of different names and personas, each with a different style and values. One is a shepherd, one is a futurist. I think everyone has different voices and versions of themselves in the same skin.

So those two albums set up a kind of oscillation. ‘The Beating of Wings’ is mostly acoustic pieces with completely notated scores for me and other musicians to play, for example, ‘32 Frames For Amplified Orchestra’.

‘Alphabed’ is a studio record. The pieces are mapped out with notation in some kind of sketch or short score, with some notated parts for the singers and instrumentalists. But the orchestration and arrangement is made in the studio, with different keyboards and a sampler, by trying out different sounds and improvising.

In 2005, you released ‘Another Language’ with Claudia Brücken which comprised of minimally structured covers, have you discussed possibly doing a second volume?

It was a great project and developed very organically. We knew each other from working at Sarm West Studios at the same time in the 80s and were both on the bill for ‘The Value of Entertainment’ show in the West End.

15 or so years later we were chatting at a party and ‘Ruby Tuesday’ came on and we started talking about how interesting it would be to do a cover. We didn’t do that one in the end!

For me ‘Another Language’ connects to the arranging things I did in the 80s: PSYCHIC TV, NITZER EBB, BLACK and THE THE. But it probably connects most with the three arrangements I made for ERASURE, because I started with just the vocal line, and rebuilt the song from the inside. Which is what I did with ‘Another Language’. The original tracks by the original artists are perfect somehow. The only thing to do is to try and reinvent the song from another point of view.

I’m very pleased when people ask about a second album. It’s a vote of confidence. We see each other socially but are both busy with our own projects at the moment.

You have ‘Ark Hive of A Live’ coming out at the start of 2023, what is the concept behind this collection?

If ‘JELLY’ is picking up a thread of ‘Alphabed’, with its vocal and electronic and multitrack studio processes, then ‘Ark Hive of A Live’ is echoing ‘The Beating of Wings’, with its collection of mostly acoustic instrumental concert pieces. All the pieces on ‘Ark Hive’ are live performances recorded straight to stereo. But it’s not really an album or even a box set. There is a folded sleeve containing the four CDs and a book with 128 pages of writing and images, all contained in an archival slipcase. The book part is quite substantial, with writing by me about the pieces as well as poems, prose-poems and reflections. There are four great pieces of commentary from Paul Morley, Leah Kardos, Rose English and Nik Bärtsch.

One of the touchstones for me, when I was talking with CJ at False Walls and the designer, David Caines, was a book by Moyra Davey called ‘Les Goddesses / Hemlock Forest’. Her work is an intriguing hybrid. She is a photographer and filmmaker who writes. Her book is full of photographs accompanied by writing that seems like a memoir and then a historical biography or documentary, that tips over into a review of something. The fragments swirl around. Reading the book, you bounce between the photographs and the writing.

There are many paths through the memory portal that is an archive. The ‘Ark Hive’ images of performance and performer portraits remember and suggest the diversity of ways music happens. So that, along with the writing and the recordings, some kind of hybrid experience emerges from the words, music and images. In some ways it’s what is happening all the time. Seeing and listening and reading all feed me at the same moment.

The movement between modes is the basic concept of the project and is captured in the two images of the title, the Ark and the Hive. It became a way of thinking about the archive. It’s collection of fragments. A collage.

What are your plans with regards future projects?

More performances and releases. I just did a CD launch event at Iklectik in London where I performed material from ‘JELLY’, ‘Hoarse Songs’, ‘Shiny Floor’, ‘Shiny Ceiling’, ‘Ark Hive’ and ‘The Beating of Wings’. There’s a Tape Worm event being planned by Philip Marshall and Travis Elborough for early in the new year. I’ll be involved in that. Venue TBA. And also a launch event for the ‘Ark Hive’ probably at the end of January.


ELECRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Andrew Poppy

‘JELLY’ is released by Field Radio and available as a CD and download available from https://andrewpoppy.bandcamp.com/

http://www.andrewpoppy.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063715171165

https://www.instagram.com/mr_poppy/

https://open.spotify.com/artist/0hxJWtLrN9a710B9TBPjsU


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
6th December 2022

xPROPAGANDA Live in London

With “x” marking the spot in 2018, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag launched themselves as xPROPAGANDA to perform ‘A Secret Wish’, the 1985 album released by ZTT which was recorded with their former bandmates Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens as PROPAGANDA.

Dubbed “ABBA in hell”, the quartet’s album was produced by Stephen Lipson and heralded the advent of sampling and digital synthesis. But during those shows, Brücken and Freytag realised they needed more material.

With Lipson on-board to helm a brand new album, the end result has been an excellent collection of songs entitled ‘The Heart Is Strange’; both a debut and a continuation, the sonically satisfying long player was given its live debut at The Garage, the very venue where xPROPAGANDA became an entity.

The nine piece live ensemble was crammed onto the small stage with Brücken and Freytag joined by Lipson and David Rainger on guitar as well as James Watson and Philip Larsen on keyboards. Drummer Paul Jones and percussionist Luís Jardim were almost hidden on opposite sides of the stage while Nick Mead made appearances as appropriate on Flugelhorn and trumpet.

Beginning with the first seven tracks from ‘The Heart Is Strange’ in order, ‘The Night’ provided a lively cacophony of sequenced digitised bass, crashing beats and sweeping synthetic strings in true ZTT style with a long intro before Brücken broke into song. However feedback, particularly on Freytag’s mic and the buffering glitches on the visuals made it a shaky start.

More metronomic, ‘Chasing Utopia’ saw Freytag offer her distinctive spoken harmony next to Brücken before an alluring German monologue. Lyrically, ‘The Heart Is Strange’ has focussed on the world’s socio-political landscape and with commentary on fake news as well as social media’s unrealistic representation of beauty culture, ’Beauty Is The Truth’ came over quite aggressively with the two Germans sparring in their contrasting vocal styles.

Sounding at times like PET SHOP BOYS ‘Rent’ in its bassline, ‘Only Human’ acted as a moody breather although a synthetic rock edge propelled ‘Don’t (You Mess with Me)’ while with an exotic swirl, ‘No Ordinary Girl’ saw Freytag make reference to ‘A Secret Wish’ with a knowing “Don’t be a fool!”.

One of the best numbers on ‘The Heart Is Strange’, ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ gave a stark warning on rise again of extreme right wing agendas. Despite its bounce and superb twin guitar interventions, the message was poignant coming from two Germans whose grandparents’ generation had made the mistake of opening up the door to the Nazis by “doing nothing” and looking away.

The world needs to listen to people who know and understand that the likes of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and their band of merry posh boys are actually veiled fascists with no interest in the plight of the British people. Only there to line the pockets of themselves and their mates, they are drunk on power with no motivation to govern, all while hobnobbing with criminal Russian oligarchs. The US saw common sense and toppled Trump, so that fraudulent grifter who pretends to be a Prime Minister needs to be next on the list…

The use of Brothers Grimm imagery in ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ was also highly appropriate, especially in relation to the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, a vile woman so evil that comedian Bill Bailey accurately described her as “Cruella de Vil without the self-confidence issues…”

With their repertoire now satisfactorily expanded, the final third of the show featured highlights from ‘A Secret Wish’, beginning with the unsettling cinematic glory of ‘Dr Mabuse’. The machine rhythm of ‘The Murder Of Love’ maintained the momentum while with an equally percussive rumble, the cover of JOSEF K’s ‘Sorry For Laughing’ headed towards a powerfully enjoyable ‘P: Machinery’ to close the main set.

For the encore, Brücken gave a spirited first verse of ‘Duel’ backed by solo piano before the band joined in on the chorus, accompanied by the rousing crowd for a nostalgic high. With the love clearly being felt in the room, Freytag poetically took the lead on ‘Ribbons of Steel’, the cinematic closer from ‘The Heart Is Strange’ to finish. With a haunting narrative on the post-war division of Germany and The Berlin Wall which physically and ideologically split families, friends and lovers, its Cold War references had resonances with today’s world events.

Presented as a starker 21st Century follow-up to ‘Dream Within A Dream’ from ‘A Secret Wish’, with the declaration that “I’m trapped on the wrong side, or is it the right side”, the sentiment could be applied to those with common Ukrainian / Russian heritage now set against each other in a pointless war or closer to home in history, those Chinese seamen that served in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War who were suddenly rounded up and deported with their British-born families never told of their fate; more recently, there has been the disgusting Windrush scandal.

Those heinous repatriation policies fronted by that smirking race traitor Ugly Patel, in her own belief that her status is smugly safe as a Cooper, only highlighted the total lack of humanity existing in the current Tory government and provided food for thought…

Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag said: “We always thought it was a shame that an album as distinctive and acclaimed as ‘A Secret Wish’ seemed destined to be a one-off”. Tonight in London, that situation was formally corrected and presented to many satisfied faces.


With thanks to Stuart Kirkham PR

‘The Heart is Strange’ is out now by ZTT in CD, 2CD, vinyl LP, red vinyl LP, Bluray audio and digital formats

The ‘Secretstrange’ 2022 tour of Germany includes:

Berlin Columbia Theater (2nd November), München Schlachthof (4th November), Frankfurt Nachtleben (5th November), Bochum Zeche (6th November), Hamburg Kent Club (8th November)

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/xPropagandaOfficial

https://twitter.com/_xPropaganda

https://www.instagram.com/_xpropaganda/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chi Ming Lai and Richard Price
28th May 2022

xPROPAGANDA Interview

Photo by Kai Freytag

As PROPAGANDA, die klassik quartett of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens dubbed “ABBA in hell” released their only album together ‘A Secret Wish’ in 1985 on ZTT.

Featuring the hit singles ‘Dr Mabuse’, ‘Duel’ and ‘P: Machinery’, ‘A Secret Wish’ was highly regarded with admirers including Martin Gore, John Taylor, Jim Kerr and Quincy Jones. PROPAGANDA had emerged from Düsseldorf’s post-punk art scene which had often gathered at the Ratinger Hof pub on Ratinger Straße.

Previously, Brücken and Freytag had been in an all-girl group called TOPOLINOS who appeared on the compilation ‘Partysnäks’ in 1982; their track ‘Mustafa’ became a favourite of the late John Peel who played it on his late night BBC Radio1 show.

But “x” marks the spot and with it, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag have rebooted the esteemed brand as xPROPAGANDA with ‘A Secret Wish’ producer Stephen Lipson helming for an excellent collection of all-new material entitled ‘The Heart Is Strange’.

As another hope feeds another dream, during a break from live rehearsals for the upcoming London showcase of ‘The Heart Is Strange’, Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag kindly talked to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the album’s creative genesis and realisation.

Over the past few years, you have worked together on the ‘This Happened’ shows and the song ‘Sweet Sense (Of) Liberation’ on the ‘Beginn’ album with Jerome Froese, but when did the impetus to do a project together come about?

Susanne: It started in 2018 when we played ‘A Secret Wish’ at The Garage and we thought we needed some new material. We had been thinking about this for a long time and thought it would be nice to have some new songs to expand our repertoire a bit.

Photo by Jimmy King

How do you look back the reception for those shows at The Garage?

Claudia: Amazing, it was just incredible that people from all over the world came, from Japan, America, Mexico and Europe. It was fantastic to see and you could feel it while we were performing. It was great to be working with Stephen Lipson and Luís Jardim in the band and it worked so well. During rehearsals back then, we already thought it would be nice to have new material.

You initially launched yourselves as D:UEL and did gigs under that name but how was it decided to settle on being called xPROPAGANDA?

Claudia: At some point, we thought we would call ourselves after a song we’d done but we questioned it. For that moment, we thought it would do, but we thought we should maybe find a different name…

Susanne: …and find an arrangement with Ralf and Michael to be able to call ourselves xPROPAGANDA. But this took us some time to negotiate; that’s why went under D:UEL.

What are you own favourite recollections of making ‘A Secret Wish’?

Claudia: Mine is being in Sarm West in this amazing atmosphere in Basing Street, surrounded by really creative people. There were three studios, Bob Marley recorded there in the 70s, and it had an incredible vibe. At that point, ZTT were in the same building so it felt really electrifying.

Susanne: It was about being in London, being in the studios, working with Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, meeting David Sylvian… KILLING JOKE were in the studio and obviously FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, it was just a very exciting time.

What was it like to meet David Sylvian, did either of you have a crush on him?

Claudia: We were real admirers of him and his work but we weren’t star struck or anything, we took it in our stride…

Susanne: … I loved JAPAN so I think I was a little bit! *laughs*

Photo by Jimmy King

Given your history and the fact that he was in the xPROPAGANDA live band, was it a no brainer that Stephen Lipson would be involved in ‘The Heart Is Strange’?

Claudia: It seemed so obvious as he did ‘A Secret Wish’… both Susanne and I had this sentiment that we wished there had been another album after that with our involvement. Throughout the years, Stephen said “Girls, if you ever want to do something, I’m here”

Susanne: He’s a very busy guy working with Hans Zimmer on films so it took a bit of time…

Claudia: …but then at some point, it was the right time. But the dynamic didn’t change too much because for us, the Stephen then and the Stephen now, although we have all changed in some ways, it was all so easy. We had common ground, shared experiences and stories to tell, so we are still the same people.

Another name on ‘The Heart Is Strange’ is John Owen Williams who produced the Claudia solo album ‘Where Else…’

Claudia: John lives locally to me as does Stephen, I worked with him so well on the ‘Where Else…’ album that I thought it would be good to work on melodies and lyrics with him again. He was really open, it was just a natural process, it’s good to have someone to throw ideas to, but not as a band member as such.

Did you consciously decide to incorporate some classic ZTT references into ‘The Heart Is Strange’? I’m thinking of trumpets and proggy guitars alongside the crafted electronic backdrop etc…

Claudia: That’s Stephen’s production style so I guess it would naturally resemble that, because that was the sound. It’s just what comes out of us, it wasn’t like “oh, we need to make sure it sounds like PROPAGANDA”.

Photo by Kai Freytag

The opener ‘The Night’ does not disappoint with a dancey cacophony of sequenced digitised bass and percolating percussive colours, it does have that classic widescreen Lipson sound… 

Claudia: On this, we collaborated with Pete Murray who is a producer friend of Stephen. We asked Stephen if he had any ideas flying around in his library which he shared with us. So we picked a few as a starting point. I wanted to make a kind of poem or prayer, and then the whole idea came about, it’s a three parter. When Covid came, we would continue to develop things by file sharing but luckily, we had all the vocal parts already recorded. Stephen then worked his magic.

There’s quite a long intro ‘The Night’ before the vocal comes in which adds to the tension, it’s something that is missing from a lot music now, that anticipation…

Claudia: I’m really happy you say that because I like music to breathe and take you on a journey… a lot of songs these days are just designed for radio and they put on lot into that three and a half minute timeframe. I like things when they are stretched.

‘Beauty Is The Truth’ is more aggressive with the two of you sparring?

Claudia: We are just having a dialogue aren’t we? Susanne says something, then I say the opposite to prove her point, it’s very much a play and it’s inspired by John Keats, the romantic poet. It’s challenging romanticism as well. It has lots of different layers, like about fake news and warning people to be alert and be careful.

Susanne: For me, it also deals with social media and all this beauty culture, especially all these teenage girls and the image they want to present which is not real.

Photo by Kai Freytag

Photo by Kai FreytagHow you feel about social media, both in the context as artists and as mothers?

Claudia: I think it’s terribly addictive in how you are drawn to it, it’s a bit insane really how many hours people spend on it.

Susanne: As mothers, I am glad my two children are grown-up and that I don’t have teenage daughters. I see friends with teenage daughters where they can quickly get into this wanting the miration from others, looking at the clicks and struggling with themselves… it’s sad to see and I know somebody in Sweden where use of computers in schools started earlier than in Germany. But the amount of anorexia in school girls in Sweden is so high and my friend sees the direct link as being the age when they start using computers or are given mobile devices. I thought it was interesting, I never saw this connection with the age that children are introduced to computers…

Claudia: …and there’s this obsession with self-image…

Susanne: …and that’s what starts it, they become 11-12-13 and there’s this peer pressure to appear beautiful on social media.

Social media brings the fans a step closer to the artist than back in the day when they would have been more on a pedestal…

Susanne: For me, it’s really stressful, I’m happy if I don’t have to look at it. But you also need it because this is the modern way of advertising yourself and your product so…

Claudia: …it’s a double edged sword *laughs*

‘Only Human’ offers a mid-album breather?

Claudia: We felt a bit odd and vulnerable at that point of writing, it was thinking “hey, we’re all human”, all this uncertainty that’s going on…

Susanne: …it was Covid related.

Is ‘Don’t (You Mess with Me)’ something of a female empowerment song, given some of the challenges in your creative past?

Claudia: Yes, it is! *laughs*

Susanne: It is also about personal lives, being angry and female empowerment.

Claudia: It’s being fed up, we went to Stephen’s studio and he said “I’ve started this riff” and we were really impressed. So instead of what we came in for, we concentrated on this…

Susanne: ….it happened very quickly…

Claudia: …and we just wrote it on the spot basically! By the end of the session, we had finished the song and recorded it. At the time, it was cathartic for all of us, this burst of energy got captured. This is something that doesn’t happen that often. But I think we were all in this p*ssed off mood and that drove it *laughs*

There’s an exotic mystical swirl in ‘No Ordinary Girl’ with a knowing “Don’t be a fool!”, where did this combination come from?

Susanne: We were joking around with references to ‘A Secret Wish’ *laughs*

Claudia: We were thinking of sinister things that Susanne should say in contrast to the vocal melody so that came up *laughs*

Photo by Jimmy King

The melody is quite Eastern?

Susanne: It is, it’s a little bit strange, the things I am saying are a bit…

Claudia: …disturbed! But I think the melody sounds a bit French and filmic. I also really like the string steps, those figures at the end, I think that was Pete Murray with his beautiful keyboard playing. But it also has something exotic so that was me following the sound. I thought it would be nice to have a torch song on the album.

So are you dictating ideas and sketches to your phone now?

Claudia: All the time, a melody just pops into your head and you can immediately sing it. I’ve got about 1000 voice recordings on my phone, I just capture things.

Is it generally through vocal melodies that you write your musical ideas or do you have a mini-keyboard or software on a device?

Claudia: It’s pretty much in my head… or I will hear some nice chords somewhere and I will use that for referencing.

From the bounce of the track, the vocals from the two of you and a magnificent sax solo from Terry Edwards, ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ with its narrative on the rise of new far right using Brothers Grimm imagery really gels with a big expansive sound, it’s my favourite on the album…

Claudia: That’s so great that you say that, I think it’s so mad that there is such a long saxophone solo, it’s really bold to do that in a song these days! When I heard it, I thought “I love that!”, it’s so unexpected.

I love the confusion the sax causes, its processed so it sounds like a guitar but towards the end of the solo, the intonation is such that you are thinking “that’s not a guitar!” *laughs*

Claudia: That’s what I like about Stephen’s production, he just keeps messing and makes bold choices.

Susanne: It’s such a mad sax solo, it really fits the song.

Susanne’s son Alex also did some programming on The Wolves Are Returning’?

Susanne: Yes, he was working on some basslines and other things. We had talked about getting some different elements in there. One was Terry Edwards and the other was Alex; he lives in Berlin so that weird vibe came in. I was working with him on a few things so we looked at something we could integrate.

Claudia: Stephen is very open to ideas from others, he has this experimental mind which is great to have for creativity.

I’ve always felt the best producers are the ones who have progressive rock sensibilities, like Trevor Horn, Stephen Lipson, Mike Howlett, Zeus B Held and Conny Plank, they dare to apply this stuff to pop music…

Claudia: Yes, I like the mixing of genres so that you’re not this or that, I don’t have a purist mind, neither has Susanne or Stephen. A good song is a good song and you can style it in any way.

The closer ‘Ribbons of Steel’ could be considered the follow-up to ‘Dream Within A Dream’?

Susanne: The ‘Ribbons of Steel’ are a reference to barbed wire, it was inspired by The Berlin Wall. When it was built in the 60s, it just divided the people and the streets. So it’s about two people, one is in the East and one is in the West, who are unable to see each other again.

Claudia: There’s this loss of contact, this feeling of not knowing and having a lot of unanswered questions, it’s a story about the unknown, being plagued by uncertainty.

That feeling resonates with current world events…

Susanne: I was thinking that.

Was there the fascination for Berlin in Düsseldorf back in the day like there was for people in the UK and the US?

Claudia: In the 80s, definitely. The Berlin club scene in particular, it was completely mad… I remember going to clubs there and it was like WOW!

Susanne: Also, in Düsseldorf, places had to close at 1.00am but in Berlin, they were open all night. I remember being in an amazing discotheque and somebody opened the door and there was this really strange light coming in, not realising it was daylight! It was fascinating but it was quite dark, being in the Eastern Bloc…

Claudia: …but that is what made it so special.

Susanne: Of course, Berlin was full of students and people who didn’t want to go in the army so they brought a whole different culture to the place.

How are rehearsals going to present ‘The Heart Is Strange’ live alongside songs from ‘A Secret Wish’, who is in the band?

Susanne: It’s going well, it’s quite a big thing to present the new songs and everything, it’s huge. It’s a lot of work and we have lots of great musicians, it will be exciting!

Claudia: It’s going to be a nine piece band this time, Stephen is joining us in the band, along with Luís Jardim again. There’s also David Rainger who played a lot of guitar on the new album plus James Watson and Philip Larsen on keyboards and the drummer Paul Jones. Rehearsals are going great. We’re doing all the songs from ‘The Heart Is Strange’ and a big chunk of ‘A Secret Wish’.

Will there be any more xPROPAGANDA shows after this May date in London?

Susanne: Yes, there are gigs in Germany in November which have just been announced.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag

Special thanks to Stuart Kirkham

‘The Heart is Strange’ is released by ZTT on 20th May 2022 as in CD, 2CD, vinyl LP, red vinyl LP, Bluray audio and digital formats

xPROPAGANDA perform at The Garage in London on 24th May 2022

The ‘Secret Strange Thinking’ 2022 tour of Germany and The Netherlands includes:

Berlin Columbia Theater (2nd November), München Schlachthof (4th November), Frankfurt Nachtleben (5th November), Bochum Zeche (6th November), Hamburg Kent Club (8th November), Zoetermeer De Boerderij (10th November)

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/xPropagandaOfficial

https://twitter.com/_xPropaganda

https://www.instagram.com/_xpropaganda/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
21st May 2022

xPROPAGANDA The Heart Is Strange

The legend of German quartet PROPAGANDA was etched into the psyche of the music cognoscenti with the 1985 release of ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT, a classic of the electronic era which heralded the advent of sampling and digital synthesis.

Among its fans were Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr; over the years, ‘A Secret Wish’ has grown in stature with its influence felt on Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, produced by Quincy Jones. Meanwhile, the foursome of Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, Ralf Dörper and Michael Mertens dubbed “ABBA in hell” were a forerunner of acts such as LADYTRON.

But it all ended acrimoniously and despite attempts to reform PROPAGANDA over the last 30 years, they have all come to nought, although the quartet performed together at the Trevor Horn celebratory concert for The Prince’s Trust in 2004, while Freytag and Dörper joined Brücken for her career retrospective show at The Scala in 2011.

More recently, Brücken and Freytag have teamed up with Stephen J Lipson, producer of ‘A Secret Wish’ and had introduced their new project as D:UEL – so it was a surprise when it was announced that the pair would be playing two London shows performing ‘A Secret Wish’ as xPROPAGANDA in 2018.

‘The Heart Is Strange’ is the first fruit of labour from xPROPAGANDA; with that classic widescreen Lipson sound, the impressive opener ‘The Night’ does not disappoint with a dancey cacophony of sequenced digitised bass, crashing beats and sweeping synthetic strings. Additional brass flourishes, orchestrated bursts and percolating percussive colours permeate over multi-minute intro before Claudia Brücken delivers a fabulous vocal.

The spacious metronomic template of ‘Chasing Utopia’ hypnotically builds with the addition of guitars from the pleasuredome and snappy live drums as Susanne Freytag provides a spoken harmony next to Brücken before an alluring German monologue and a flugelhorn solo. Although tapping with rimshot before packing a punch, ‘Beauty Is The Truth’ is more aggressive with Freytag sparring with Brücken as their contrasting styles provide the tension over the buzzy trance-laden air.

‘Only Human’ is less pacey, crossing six string strums with electronics, acting almost as a mid-album breather. However, ‘Don’t (You Mess with Me)’ provides a synthetic rock edge and a piano motif that could have come straight from the Gary Numan playbook but the end result actually comes over like ABBA although not quite in hell but more a jungle full of tigers. With an exotic swirl ‘No Ordinary Girl’ heads towards the Mystical East and is bolstered by some heavy guitar and choppy strings plus a reference to the past with a knowing “Don’t be a fool!”

A warning on the rise of the extreme right wing using Brothers Grimm imagery, ‘The Wolves Are Returning’ is back to classic Lipson. It’s a bouncy driving number with another superb vocal from Brücken, an enticing middle eight phrase from Freytag and a magnificent sax solo from Terry Edwards, processed to the point of sounding like a guitar. Over 9 minutes, the cinematic closer ‘Ribbons of Steel’ provides a fitting atmospheric backdrop to showcase Susanne Freytag’s poetry. With references to The Cold War that are equally applicable to today’s world events, it’s a starker 21st Century follow-up to ‘Dream Within A Dream’ declaring “I never heard The Division Bell… I’m trapped on the wrong side, or is it the right side”.

As Brücken and Freytag summarised: “We always thought it was a shame that an album as distinctive and acclaimed as ‘A Secret Wish’ seemed destined to be a one-off. It certainly meant a lot to us, and it never seemed right that the story stopped there. Working again with Stephen Lipson and means that we can turn our dreams about what the ZTT follow up to ‘A Secret Wish’ would sound like into a reality. The reality is ‘The Heart is Strange’”.

While the distinct pop approach of ‘The Heart Is Strange’ perhaps is missing the gothic industrial spike of Ralf Dörper and the classically schooled eccentricity of Michael Mertens that added some of the character to ‘A Secret Wish’, where it does not disappoint is vocally and sonically; fans of PROPAGANDA and ZTT will relish and savour this thoughtfully crafted work.

Surpassing both the Brücken-less PROPAGANDA long player ‘1234’ and ACT’s ‘Laughter, Tears & Rage’, ‘The Heart Is Strange’ can be considered a worthy follow-up to ‘A Secret Wish’.


‘The Heart is Strange’ is released by ZTT on 20th May 2022 as in CD, 2CD, vinyl LP, red vinyl LP, Bluray audio and digital formats

xPROPAGANDA perform at The Garage in London on 24th May 2022

The ‘Secretstrange’ 2022 tour of Germany includes:
Berlin Columbia Theater (2nd November), München Schlachthof (4th November), Frankfurt Nachtleben (5th November), Bochum Zeche (6th November), Hamburg Kent Club (8th November)

https://www.xpropaganda.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/xPropagandaOfficial

https://twitter.com/_xPropaganda

https://www.instagram.com/_xpropaganda/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Jimmy King
15th May 2022

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