Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Microdisney ‎– 39 Minutes (1988)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Virgin

01.   Singer's Hampstead Home
02.   High & Dry
03.   Send Herman Home
04.   Ambulance For One
05.   Soul Boy
06.   Back To The Old Town
07.   United Colours
08.   Gale Force Wind
09.   Herr Direktor
10.   Bluerings

Bass Guitar – Crazy Johnny Nancy
Drums – Tom Fenner
Guitars, Banjo, Harmonica – Sean O'Hagan
Keyboards – James Compton
Backing Vocals – Fabulous Golden Showers
Vocals – Cathal Coughlan
Composed By – Coughlan, O'Hagan
Producer – Jamie Lane

With 1987's "Crooked Mile," Microdisney appeared willing to compromise their values (gasp!) by hooking up with (and bending over spread-eagled for) Virgin to make a slick, over-produced, bubble gum-coated record designed to sell massive quantities and flood the airwaves. Sadly, the whole thing left the band with a blackened eye, as the album probably didn't rake in the fans or cash Virgin might have been expecting, not to mention that such a move must have smelled faintly of sell-out to some of their older fans. Despite this, Microdisney gave it another shot with "39 Minutes." But, they didn't quite seem to learn from the glaring mistakes that nearly derailed "Crooked Mile," and came up with yet another slick, glossy offering, that (at least on the surface) sounded like yet another attempt at conquering the charts. That's not to say "39 Minutes" is bad by any means. It might bring a puzzled cringe to the faces of those looking for a return to the sound of their Rough Trade years, but it's still got quite a bit going for it. People have a tendency to prefer "39 Minutes" to "Crooked Mile," and here's my theory on why: better song placement.

From the strong, surging, melodic opener "Singer's Hampstead Home," through the tough, hook-filled "Ambulance for One," the first half of "39 Minutes" builds up some seriously healthy momentum, interrupted only by the musically dull "Soul Boy." But on side two the cracks begin to show, with things being salvaged temporarily by the punchy "Gale Force Wind" and the hilarious "Herr Director," before collapsing with the slick (but lyrically interesting) MOR balladry of Bluerings. My point here is that although "39 Minutes" ultimately suffers the same level of inconsistency as its predecessor, it kinda gives the illusion of being a stronger effort because of its better song order. The holes don't really surface until side two, by which point the listener is so enthralled with the bulk of what came before that, that he's already decided this album's a keeper.

But "39 Minutes" has a certain energy and focus that also helps give it the edge over "Crooked Mile." As disgustingly slick as the album is (and believe me, I'll tackle that issue in a minute), it captures the sheer energy of the band better than anything they'd released previously. The drums are pounding, the guitars and bass aren't afraid to get a little aggressive, and Cathal seems even more pissed off than ever. There's tension boiling just beneath surface throughout, and when it's allowed to boil over, the results are positively riveting.

But all that teeth-clenching energy and white-knuckled anger aside, I just can't ignore that this album was grossly overproduced. "Crooked Mile," to be sure, had some serious production issues, mainly that it all seemed to be too trad and colorless for Microdisney, stripping them of their character with cheap sounding synths and lackluster arrangements. Unfortunately, "39 Minutes" goes absolutely overboard with tacky Paula Abdul sounding synth settings, late 80s-era Genesis guitar tones, and an overall studio sterile sheen that absolutely screams NINETEEN EIGTHY-EIGHT. Not even the Smith's "Strangeways Here We Come" was this slick. No, in fact, the only other record I can think of that sounds this awful is Prefab Sprout's "From Langley Park to Memphis." And of course one just can't shake the feeling that the sound of this record was mainly a result of some well-groomed, Armani-covered, loafer-wearing scumbags at Virgin going for one last ditch attempt at milking something in the way of a "hit" out of these freaks. I mean c'mon: lyrically and musically, "Send Herman Home" and "High & Dry" are wonderful songs, but shit, listen to those nagging fucking INXS synthesizers!!! VOMIT!!! And then what the fuck is Sean O'Hagan doing plucking out those muted guitar notes in the verses as if he were some fucking studio session hack in a mullet, white jeans, and bolo-tie!?! (Okay, Sean was working on a pretty serious mullet at this point, but still…)

Honestly, what the fuck were they trying to do? Did they think this was funny? Was this yet another, more perverse way of conveying their acute sense of irony? Did they seriously think that if they dolled up the sound that much, that the masses would actually pay attention to what Cathal was singing? As if they could sneak into the malaise of yuppie culture, like a wolf in sheep's clothing, lure them in with the foot-tapping, plastic-y sounds, and then bludgeon them to death with a sledge-hammer?

But enough of my ranting. That more than half the songs on this album are so well-written, melodically strong, and infectious that even I can work through the glaring production flaws, is a testament to what geniuses these guys were. Sure, a more organic production would've made this album easier on the ears, and it's tragic that the sound is so hopelessly dated. But if you can look past the flaws, you'll find songs of tremendous depth and sophistication.

Lyrically, Cathal is at his strongest and most direct. As with "Crooked Mile," here Cathal seems bent on sharpening his lyrical tirades to avoid being misunderstood, a problem that plagued him from the get-go. The sharp "Singer's Hampstead Home" rails against Boy George and the music industry that made him: "Pop songs with happy ends/You know they're dead but you still pretend/He only had blank rhymes to say/But he said 'em in a witty and stylish way". "High and Dry" has some particularly hilariously cynical lines, like "You've got dreams and I've got demons/I forgive them all because they're really into what they do," and later, "History - somebody canonize me".

"United Colours" is noteworthy for its attack on corporate advertising campaigns (in this case, United Colours of Benetton) using multi-cultural, third world issues in order to make themselves appear sensitive, culturally savvy, and conscientious. By wearing United Colours of Benetton, you too can make a statement by looking like you care! And as Cathal notes,

There's nothing wrong with young would-be rich that a head full of lead would not cure. They sleep well at night, 'cause they know wrong from right. United Colours to the drip, United Colours proud and thick, United Colours truths that tell, Colours of brainrot shot to hell.

That the use of third world imagery for shifting units by tapping into an increasingly prevalent yuppie climate obsessed with paying lip-service to cultural sensitivity is downright reprehensible, goes without saying. That Microdisney could embrace sounds that were commercial enough to potentially appeal to Benetton clad consumers, and then knife them in the back with such insightful and abrasive lyrics is truly a bold and commendable move which no one else really seemed to have the balls to try.

"Gale Force Wind" finds Cathal berating some loser, who, despite his lack of status and his resulting disdain for the wealthy, still harbors pipe-dreams of being rich and forcing those under him to suffer, thus failing to comprehend the larger picture that perhaps led to his depressing situation in the first place. "What the hell is wrong with you/You long to lord it like the rich folks do/You command me from the depths of gin/To walk a tightrope in a gale force wind", and later "Go apart, go right, go straight/and watch your friends become the kind you hate."

And no review of "39 Minutes" would be complete without a reference to the classic line in Herr Director (tackling the elitism and mind-numbing stupidity in the American film industry), in which Cathal sneers, "Haven't come through this misery for some art-school snob to look down on me!"

What needs to be emphasized here is that the passion and conviction with which Cathal sings this stuff is absolutely unparalleled. Even when the lyrics lean towards the ambiguous or willfully obscure, Cathal's conviction proves so commanding that one can't help but be deeply moved by it all. What's more, Cathal's intermittent fits of rage could easily rival our sweat-drenched, hardcore heroes Henry Rollins or Ian Mackaye, while his articulate, heavily ironic, eloquently poetic, erudite lyrics could run circles around Lloyd Cole any day of the week.

"39 Minutes" will always remain shackled tightly to the year in which it was produced, meaning, despite strong melodies, and lyrics that are every bit as relevant today as they were 15 years ago, the overall sound reflects the time in which it was recorded too much for it to be considered a genuinely timeless effort. I think I can also predict with some certainty that this particular sound isn't coming back in vogue anytime soon. And of course that forces us fans to make peace with the fact that this record will probably remain totally lost in a realm well outside the canonical annals of rock. As Microdisney's swan song, it's a particularly strong farewell, with its relevance and complexity not lost on those who bothered to pay attention. With hindsight, we see the band at their wits end. Succumbing to the temptation of bathing in late 80s production excess, perhaps out of sheer frustration, while simultaneously canceling out any hope at achieving rock star status with Cathal's abrasive, virulent lyrics and antics, shoving a huge middle finger in the face of that very same consumerist record buying yuppie mass that could've elevated the band's popularity in the first place. How one could not be utterly intrigued and fascinated by all this, I'll never know.
Jeff Whiteaker / Bubbyworld

Microdisney ‎– Big Sleeping House - A Collection Of Microdisney's Finest Moments (1995)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD
Label: Virgin

01.   Horse Overboard
02.   Loftholdingswood
03.   Singer's Hampstead Home
04.   She Only Gave In To Her Anger
05.   Gale Force Wind
06.   I Can't Say No (Betty Lou Version)
07.   Angels
08.   Mrs Simpson
09.   Armadillo Man
10.   And He Descended Into Hell
11.   Rack
12.   Big Sleeping House
13.   Back To The Old Town
14.   Send Herman Home
15.   Town To Town
16.   Begging Bowl

Bass – Jon Fell
Drums – Tom Fenner
Guitar, Vocals – Sean O'Hagan
Keyboards – James Compton
Vocals, Keyboards – Cathal Coughlan
Written-By – Coughlan, O'Hagan

Microdisney ‎– Crooked Mile (1987)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Virgin

01.   Town To Town
02.   Angels
03.   Our Children
04.   Mrs. Simpson
05.   Hey Hey Sam
06.   Give Me All Of Your Clothes
07.   Armadillo Man
08.   Bullwhip Road
09.   And He Descended Into Hell
10.   Rack
11.   Big Sleeping House
12.   People Just Want To Dream

Strings Arranged By – C. P. Roth
Bass Guitar – Steve Pregnant
Drums, Percussion – Tom Fenner
Guitar, Harmonica – Sean O'Hagan
Horns – Sabah El-Atrache, Seamus Wadi-el-Safi
Keyboards, Accordion– James Compton
Tambourine– Bill Gill
Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Effects– Cathal Coughlan
Backing Vocals – James Compton, Lenny Kaye, Sean O'Hagan, Tom Fenner
Producer – Lenny Kaye

Microdisney ‎– 82-84: We Hate You South African Bastards! (1984)

Style: New Wave, Pop Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Rough Trade, Rev-Ola, Cherry Red

1.   Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost
2.   Michael Murphy
3.   Love Your Enemies
4.   Fiction Land
5.   Pink Skinned Man
6.   Patrick Moore Says You Can't Sleep Here
7.   Hello Rascals
8.   Pretoria Quickstep

Instruments – Sean
Liner Notes, Instruments – Cathal
Written-By – Coughlan, O'Hagan
Producer – Dave Freely, Terry Cromer

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Lloyd Cole & The Commotions ‎– Easy Pieces (1985)

Style: Pop Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label. Polydor, Geffen Records, Capitol Records

01.   Rich
02.   Why I Love Country Music
03.   Pretty Gone
04.   Grace
05.   Cut Me Down
06.   Brand New Friend
07.   Lost Weekend
08.   James
09.   Minor Character
10.   Perfect Blue

Credits: Producer – Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley Engineer – Julian Wheatley, Mark Saunders, Richard Sullivan Strings – Anne Dudley Brass – Gary Barnacle Performer – Blair Cowan, Derek MacKillop, Lawrence Donegan, Lloyd Cole, Neil Clark, Stephen Irvine Backing Vocals – Jimmy Chambers, Jimmy Helms, Jimmy Thomas, Lance Ellington, Lynda Hayes, Tony Jackson

Tunng ‎– Mother's Daughter And Other (2005)

Genre: Electronic, Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Static Caravan, P-Vine Records, Ace Fu Records

01.   Mother's Daughter
02.   People Folk
03.   Out The Window With The Window
04.   Beautiful And Light
05.   Tale From Black
06.   Song Of The Sea
07.   Kinky Vans
08.   Fair Doreen
09.   Code Breaker
10.   Surprise Me 44

Mastered By – Dan Porter
Producer, Performer – Mike Lindsay, Sam Genders

The debut album from London's Tunng, following several singles from which only two tracks are reprised here, presents ten alluring glimpses into the already fully formed and distinctive soundworld they would continue to explore and develop on future releases: in essence, gently pastoral acoustic folk, liberally garnished with electronic flourishes and warpages. It's a style that finds clear parallels in the work of New England's the Books -- in particular, the intermittent found-sound snippets and spoken word samples (that's Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso reading from their poetry in "Out the Window with the Window") make that connection unmistakable -- but has few other obvious comparisons. Which doesn't mean it's hard to classify: indeed, the genre tag "folktronica," which had entered into general usage several years before Tunng's emergence, never had a more apt referent. The electro-acoustic IDM of folktronic pioneer Four Tet, which is briefly recalled here by the glitchier, beat-driven portions of the instrumental "Kinky Vans," may have incorporated organic elements, but that hardly seems sufficient to qualify it as folk. Apart from outliers like Adem (a singer/songwriter whose electronic aspects are relatively superficial), few if any of the loosely defined style's practitioners have conducted their genre-blending escapades with so firm a foundation in conventional folk songcraft. Song titles like "Fair Doreen," "Tale from [the] Black," and "Song of the Sea" impart a sense of quaintly provincial antiquity, and indeed each of these numbers unfurls a lilting, somewhat dirge-like melody redolent of traditional English balladry; each one also sports the band's trademark cleanly fingerpicked guitar work -- the latter also embellished with banjo and harmonica (and underscored, characteristically, with a subtle pitter-patter of clicks and claps that might be electronic or acoustic or some combination of the two, as well as distant, scratchy announcements and sudden bursts of canned laughter). But despite the group's archaistic bent, there's nary a trace of sticky nostalgia here, which is due as much to the sympathetic but unsentimental vocals -- many of them delivered in Sam Genders' gruff, but not tuneless, deadpan, and often doubled -- as it is to the barrage of electronic intrusions. Actually, "intrusions" is a bit misleading, even if it does often feel as though the samples and effects are churlishly disrupting perfectly self-sufficient indie folk songs -- in fact Tunng have achieved such a natural, timely fusion between two disparate musical approaches that if they didn't deliberately hijack your attention from time to time, you might not even notice the seams. It's a neat trick that they make look easy, and as good as they are it's hard not to wish that the constituent components of that fusion were even stronger -- the songs are amiably tuneful and lyrically intriguing, but on their own terms they fall somewhat short of spectacular; the programming is accomplished but never truly breathtaking -- so as to make this album as impressive on all fronts as it is in its utterly unique overarching aesthetic (which is very clearly its defining feature). But what is here is certainly fascinating in its own right, enough to make this an excellently compelling and promising debut. 
K. Ross Hoffman / AllMusic

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The Colour Field ‎– Virgins And Philistines (1985)

Style: Pop Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Chrysalis

01.   Can't Get Enough Of You Baby
02.   Pushing Up The Daisies
03.   Faint Hearts
04.   Castles In The Air
05.   Take
06.   Thinking Of You
07.   The Colourfield
08.   Cruel Circus
09.   Hammond Song
10.   Your Love Was Smashing
11.   Virgins And Philistines
12.   Sorry

Drums – Paul Burgess, Pete De Freitas
Percussion – Preston Heyman
Instruments, Voice – Karl Shale, Terry Hall, Toby Lyons
Producer – Hugh Jones
Written-By – Terry Hall, Toby Lyons

Terry Hall's reunion with The Specials may have hogged the limelight for the last year or two, but – argues Wyndham Wallace – the debut album from his short-lived project The Colourfield is equally worth revisiting

Pop music is full of auditory trompe l'oeils, the rush of hearing something for the first time that in reality is perhaps not as breathtaking as it initially seems. Returning to records years after their release can sometimes reveal the weaknesses that we'd failed to notice at the time. What seemed refreshing or innovative can, further down the line, appear primitive or tiresome. There's a moment that used to give me goosebumps in The Blue Nile's 'The Downtown Lights', when the guitars shimmer like heat off a roof, which now almost makes me cringe, the sound having become over-familiar thanks to its use in sometimes less than welcome contexts over the years that followed. The reiteration of themes and tropes, whether by their inventors or subsequent imitators, offers diminishing returns. But we can't simply hold our nostalgia responsible for the fact that records from the past sometimes, upon reinvestigation, sound dated. Technology, too, is to blame: it often makes available to all what was once accessible only to those with the imagination to create it. And technology also renders previous developments redundant: my first Walkman's stereo sound was mindblowing, but compared to what my new Bose headphones can pull from even the most basic apparatus it likely sounds like an old Gramophone.

And so it is that the recollection of Virgin And Philistine's singles – 'Thinking Of You', 'Castles In The Air' – and its other standout moments have cultivated its candid melancholy and perversely perky pop, while the reality of listening to it exposes the tricks that memory plays as much as how fashions have changed. At the time it seemed a breath of fresh air, a semi-acoustic pastoral antidote to the neon pop landscape that surrounded it. Retrospectively, however, it sounds mildly overpolished, occasionally too close to the domain of session musicians playing along to click tracks, its steely (Dan) sheen a hurdle perhaps too great for some who didn't live through its historical context. You'll find the same problem with Aztec Camera, or Prefab Sprout, or The Lilac Time. But those who can accept this will find within its pristine forty minutes some of Hall's finest moments, lyrically and melodically, more than enough grounds for any latent nostalgia. 
Terry Hall seems to understand the way that familiarity can breed contempt. He's spent his career moving from one project to another, restlessly shaking things up, never staying with collaborators long enough for things to become stale. Virgins and Philistines may sound archaic, but that's more the fault of the pale clones that followed in its wake. Making allowances for its technical approach is imperative, especially since its intentions remain clear, and when he pursued the idea with its follow-up, Deception, he soon realised that he'd reached a creative brick wall and called it quits. In fact Hall has never made more than two albums under any of the many guises under which he has operated. He bailed from The Specials in 1981 as 'Ghost Town' sat atop the charts, taking Lynval Golding and Neville Staples with him to form Fun Boy Three. He called time on Fun Boy Three within two years, despite further hits, and The Colourfield were born, his collaborators this time Toby Lyons and Karl Shal (of Swinging Cats). They in turn dissolved during the recording of their second album, and Hall moved onto further experiments: two solo albums, collaboration with Dave Stewart under the name Vegas, further collaborations with (amongst others) Fundamental's Mushtaq, Damon Albarn, Tricky, Dub Pistols, The Lightning Seeds, and the rather painfully named (and oft forgotten) Terry, Blair, and Anouchka. 
It was on the latter's 'Lucky In Luv' that he sang "If life was fair / I'd be a millionaire", and, to be honest, given the affection in which he's generally held – underlined by the recent Specials reunion – it's a little surprising that he isn't. (Perhaps he is and simply doesn't flaunt it, in which case the man deserves even more respect.) But one of the reasons for the high regard people have for Terry Hall is precisely that he's never allowed us to become bored of his work. Its only constant is his doleful voice, its shortcomings at the heart of its charm. As soon as there's a danger that whatever he's working on might become formulaic he's taken another left turn, and with this has come the unspoken suggestion that we too should leave his previous activities behind. 
The Colourfield were one of those left behind. Two albums, a handful of singles that grazed the charts and a bunch of fuzzy videos on youtube are all that remain of this briefly wonderful exercise. The second album, frankly, is a mess, a painfully overproduced synthetic nightmare that could almost pass as part of the PWL catalogue. It's hardly surprising Hall left the project behind, and little wonder that he looks especially morose – even by his own standards – on its cover. But 1985's Virgins And Philistines is something else, and its reissue by Cherry Red – making it available on CD for the first time – is good reason to revisit it. 
Virgins And Philistines' overwhelming mood is, true to form, that of imminent regret, the foreshadowing of things going wrong or at the very least not working out as hoped if, indeed, it's not already too late. For the most part it's focussed on domestic affairs, as though Hall has just emerged from a series of painful failed relationships. At its most optimistic, "romance is a word that should be seen but not heard" consisting merely of "castles in the air", and even that often seems a forlorn hope: Hall's seen "the world about us / and the Disneyland dream's a lie" ('Cruel Circus'). Even the lovelorn sentiments of 'Thinking Of You' are undermined by the slowly dawning reality that the object of his desire is resistant to his sentiments, assuming they've not walked away previously anyway: "I could be the one thing there in your hour of need / So if you decide to change your views I'm thinking of you". At times, however, it broadens its reach to address social affairs: 'Cruel Circus'' refers to "fur coats on ugly people expensively dressed up to kill / In a sport that's legal within the minds of the mentally ill", while on 'Faint Hearts' he asks, "Will all this wishful thinking save your ship from sinking?"

In fact the number of lines that bear repeating here confirm that this was Hall at his most articulate, his attention to details as striking as Morrissey's, his ear for a wry observation never more finely tuned. "I was travelling to nowhere when I fell off the rails" ('Sorry'), "You took the good from the bad like the 36 pieces of cheap cutlery" ('Take'), "I really wanted her hair to touch her knees / I really wanted to share forgotten dreams" ('Castles In The Air'), "You can take me for a ride / but only if I get the window seat" ('Armchair Theatre'): the examples are legion. 
But the music – for the most part – matches this eloquence. On occasions, in fact, it's a masterclass in songwriting. 'Thinking Of You' recalls Bacharach and David's 'Do You Know The Way To San Jose' in its use of Spanish influences, its seemingly upbeat, almost coquettish melody at odds with its despondent lyrical tone. 'Faint Hearts' has hints of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Carousel Waltz', Hall's voice at its most yearning as he reaches for the top notes, Toby Lyons' organ wheezing much as Steve Winwood's did on Talk Talk's The Colour Of Spring. 'Castles In The Air', meanwhile sports castanets and flourishes of flamenco, an autumnal melody, dramatic cello strokes and a guitar solo that, under most circumstances, would drag a song to the depths of hell but which here lift it into that blue haze between bitter and sweet. 'Take' may seem a little clunky in comparison, but its awkwardness matches Hall's mood as he battles blatant belligerence with brutal honesty, the tremor in his voice challenged by the defiant self-denial at the song's heart ("Me and the cat own the lease on the flat / And nothing you do will ever change that… / You could say that we're having the time of our lives.") 'Cruel Circus' even breaks unexpectedly, delightfully, comically into a music hall bridge, the sampled sounds of ducks, chickens and horses interrupting his pleading "Isn't it enough to eat them?" while 'Yours Sincerely' is a deftly tender tune with which one suspects Kings Of Convenience may be familiar, though whether they're capable of lines like "I took the wrong decision
/ So you turned on your ignition" is open to question. And then there's 'Armchair Theatre', which alternates between the sincere, the twee and a knowing banality, highlighted by the way Hall delivers the line "I'm getting very bored indeed". 
But it's actually a cover of The Roches' 'Hammond Song' that steals the show, still sounding as magnificently heartfelt today as it did 25 years ago. Against gently strummed steel guitar strings, Hall shifts his attention from his own relationships to the naïve love of one younger than him who's leaving town for someone he considers unworthy, much as McCartney did on 'She's Leaving Home'. It's gentle, poignant and exquisitely understated, not a million miles from Simon & Garfunkel's gentler moments, while its lush harmonies recall another hit of the time, Godley and Creme's 'Cry'.

Winning new converts to Virgins And Philistines might be hard: quite apart from the production, its heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality may be simply too saccharine in cynical times. But that's the danger of baring your soul, and Terry Hall never did it quite so beautifully as he did here. Like "the ghost of your love (that) will never die" in 'Yours Sincerely', its memory and wistful thinking still haunt those who experienced it. What we remember may not be quite what we find, but since nostalgia lies at its heart, let nostalgia be its reward. 
Wyndham Wallace / The Quietus

Waldeck ‎– Balance Of The Force (1998)

Style: Trip Hop, Downtempo
Format: CD Vinyl
Label: Sray Records, E-Magine Entertainment

01.   Defenceless
02.   Spy Like An Angel
03.   Children Of The Ghetto
04.   Slaapwagen
05.   Aquarius
06.   Northern Lights
07.   Wake Up
08.   Superpopstar
09.   Death Of A Piano Salesman
10.   Moon

Music By – Amoo Christopher & Eddie, Galt McDermot, Klaus Waldeck
Producer – Waldeck, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Mörth, Uptight

Though it comes from a previously unheard producer, Balance of the Force certainly begins on a high note, with the down-tempo soul of "Defenceless." While Waldeck himself takes the keyboards (both electric and standard piano), the deep groove of what sounds like a live drum set frames the yearning vocals of Joy Malcolm. It's that rare thing in electronic circles: the perfect integration of vocal track and production, with both pulling equal weight to set the mood. Amidst a beautiful, effortless transition, Waldeck moves on to "Spy Like an Angel," with male vocalist Brian Amos doing much the same as Malcolm did one track earlier. Either of these voices appears on all but two of the tracks here, the exceptions being the eerie, cinematic instrumentals "Slaapwagen" and "Moon." Fellow downbeat maestros Kruder & Dorfmeister help out on production for the sublime "Aquarius," and except for the slight reliance on a previously trademarked sound, Balance of the Force stands as one of the most quietly beautiful records of vocal trip-hop -- just slightly behind masterpieces like Portishead's Dummy and Massive Attack's Mezzanine. 
John Bush / AllMusic

The Lewis Sisters ‎– Way Out...Far (1959)

Genre: Jazz, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Liberty, EMI

01.   What Is This Thing Called Love
02.   Day By Day
03.   Just Friends
04.   It Matters Not At All
05.   The Thrill Is Gone
06.   S'Wonderful
07.   Round Midnight
08.   This Can't Be Love
09.   Love Letters
10.   But Not For Me
11.   Moonlight In Vermont
12.   That's All

Bass – Red Mitchell
Drums – Frankie Capp, Milt Holland
Flute, Alto Flute, Alto Saxophone – Paul Horn
Guitar – Al Viola
Vibraphone – Larry Bunker, Victor Feldman
Arranged By, Leader, Piano – Les McCann

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

VA ‎– I'm Your Fan: The Songs Of Leonard Cohen By... (1991)

Style: Folk Rock, Country Rock, Pop Rock, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: EastWest, Columbia, Epic/Sony Records, Atlantic

01.   The House Of Love - Who By Fire
02.   Ian McCulloch - Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye
03.   Pixies - I Can't Forget
04.   That Petrol Emotion - Stories Of The Street
05.   The Lilac Time - Bird On The Wire
06.   Geoffrey Oryema - Suzanne
07.   James - So Long Marianne
08.   Jean-Louis Murat - Avalanche IV
09.   David McComb & Adam Peters - Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On
10.   R.E.M. - First We Take Manhattan
11.   Lloyd Cole - Chelsea Hotel
12.   Robert Forster - Tower Of Song
13.   Peter Astor - Take This Longing
14.   Dead Famous People - True Love Leaves No Traces
15.   Bill Pritchard - I'm Your Man
16.   The Fatima Mansions - A Singer Must Die
17.   Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Tower Of Song
18.   John Cale - Hallelujah

Executive-Producer – Christian Fevret, JD Beauvallet
Songwriter – Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector

Monday, 9 September 2019

R.E.M. ‎– Fables Of The Reconstruction / Reconstruction Of The Fables (1985)

Style: Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: CBS/Sony, I. R. S. Records

01.   Feeling Gravitys Pull
02.   Maps And Legends
03.   Driver 8
04.   Life And How To Live It
05.   Old Man Kensey
06.   Can't Get There From Here
07.   Green Grow The Rushes
08.   Kohoutek
09.   Auctioneer (Another Engine)
10.   Good Advices
11.   Wendell Gee

Guitar - Peter Buck
Bass - Mike Mills
Drums - Bill Berry
Vocals - Michael Stipe
Cello – David Newby
Tenor Saxophone – Peter Thomas
Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone – David Bitelli
Trumpet – Jim Dvořák
Violin – Camilla Brunt, Philippa Ibbotson
Written-By – R.E.M.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Elza Soares ‎– Deus É Mulher (2018)

Style: MPB
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Polysom, Deckdisc

01.   O Que Se Cala
02.   Exu Nas Escolas
03.   Banho
04.   Eu Quero Comer Você
05.   Língua Solta
06.   Hienas Na TV
07.   Clareza
08.   Um Olho Aberto
09.   Credo
10.   Dentro De Cada Um
11.   Deus Há De Ser

A&R – João Augusto, Rafael Ramos
Co-producer – Kiko Dinucci, Marcelo Cabral, Rodrigo Campos, Romulo Fróes
Mastered By – Felipe Tichauer
Mixed By – Scotty Hard
Mixed By – Connor Schultze
Producer – Guilherme Kastrup
Producer – Bruno Pregos
Recorded By – Alejandra Luciani, Fábio Roberto

“Minha voz / Uso pra dizer o que se cala / O meu país / É meu lugar de fala” (“My voice / I use it to tell what’s kept quiet / My country / Is the place from where I speak” – “lugar de fala” is a safe and judgment-free place to talk for oppressed communities). Never short of provocative energy, which she’s showed since her 20s and her debut in Musica Popular Brasileira – MPB (“Popular Brazilian Music”), Elza Soares has kept the same team she’s had since her last groundbreaking album and put them on the field again. Because there’s a golden rule in futebol (“soccer”) as well as in music: never change a winning team. The coach being Rio-based Guilherme Kastrup, in charge of the production, arrangements and multiple instruments. On the field, in charge of arrangements and performance, the musical avant-garde of São Paulo: Marcelo Cabral on bass, Kiko Dinucci on guitars and keyboards (the pair play together in Metá Metá), Rodrigo Campos on cavaquinho and guitar, as well as other commendable talents, amongst them Mariá Portugal on drums, Maria Beraldo on horns, and lyricists Tulipa Ruiz, Rodrigo Campos and Romulo Frões. Notable guests on the album include the only-female and mainly Black percussion and chants group Ilú Obá de Min, the first Afro-Brazilian bloco de carnaval that appeared in São Paulo. The common point for these field players being that they’re in their 30s or early 40s, and their artistic freedom is as deep as their admiration for Elza Soares, their female leader; 40 years their elder. 
This admiration for Elza Soares runs so deep that it gives them the audacity to experiment the richest syncretism the Brazilian music scene has ever heard since Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso’s tropicália in the ‘60s. The team daringly ventures into the samba and bossa field – an easy task at first glance, but the real challenge is to make it sound modern – moving them into the more exotic sounds of post-punk, afrobeat and psychedelic rock; they dribble around the national championship of instruments (cavaquinho, classical guitar, violin, pandeiro, and samba percussions) as well as the international outsiders (rhythm box, synthesizers, distorted electric guitar). For the duration of the game, the Brazilian team offer their female coach a perfectly fitted strategy, allowing Elza her freedom to murmur, whisper, shout out and eventually scream, to express how happy she is to be alive as well as how she’s angered to see the promises of an inclusive and united society quickly faded away. The very society that the end of its dictatorship in 1985 had given a taste of. This very society that Lula da Silva had laboriously tried to bring about between 2003 and 2011, during his presidency. No one would argue that post-colonial and post-dictatorship Brazil is today experiencing a deep political and social crisis, and that its society contains almost all of the issues the world has or will have to cope with pretty soon. 
Religion, decolonization, sexuality, domestic violence, corruption… the veteran diva of the show spares no prisoners and speaks out loud on the album and on the stage, to represent the voices of the oppressed, at an age when her contemporaries tend to be more discreet (Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, although the latter is known to be more activist when on stage). 
It can be heard on “Exú nas Escolas”, where she criticizes the dominating teachings of Catholicism at school, and advocates the importance of Afro-Brazilian religions and cultures, marginalized or made invisible. Or on “Banho”, penned by lyricist Tulipa Ruiz, where she pays tribute to two orixás figures that represent women and the water that comes out of their eyes, mouths and vaginas: “Eu não obedeço porque sou molhada” (“I won’t obey, because I’m all wet”). This mystic and sensual prayer/manifesto has become the unofficial anthem of the lusophone lesbian community. Or on “Eu Quero Comer Você” (“I want to fuck you”) where she explicitly talks of a woman’s sexuality with an infectious pride. Or on “Credo” where she assures that “love is a god that has nothing to do with religion”. Or on “Dentro de Cada Um” where she confronts both patriarchy, sexism and homophobia:
“[A mulher] vai sair de dentro de cada um
A mulher vai sair
E vai sair de dentro de quem for
A mulher é você.
De dentro da cara a tapa de quem já levou porrada na vida
De dentro da mala do cara que te esquartejou, te encheu de ferida
Daquela menina acuada que tanto sofreu e morreu sem guarida
Daquele menino magoado que não alcançou a porta de saída.”
[loose translation by the author]
“[The woman] will come out in everyone of us
The woman will come out
And will come out from anyone
The woman is you.
[The woman will come out]
Of the boldness of those already been beaten up,
Of the suitcase of the guy who destroyed you and filled you with pain
Of the girl who suffered so much and died without a lair
Of the hurting boy who did not find a way out.”
Deus é Mulher is a bible for transgression, a manifesto for activism addressed to the oppressed minorities of Brazil and anywhere else. This anti-reactionary time bomb should be placed into the hands of anyone who has the courage to fight. “Nós não temos mesmo sonho e opinião / Nosso eco se mistura na canção / Quero voz e quero o mesmo ar / Quero mesmo incomodar” she confesses in “Língua Solta”: “We don’t share the same dreams and opinions / Our echoes merge into this song / I want a voice and I want the same air / I really want to provoke.” Elza Soares and her team are in a league of their own, truly too dangerous to be let on the field of panem et circenses that has long ruled the society.
Kino Sousa  / Pan African Music

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Elza Soares ‎– A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo (2015)

Style: Samba, MPB
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Mais Um Discos, Circus

01.   Coração Do Mar / Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo
02.   Maria Da Vila Matilde
03.   Luz Vermelha
04.   Pra Fuder
05.   Benedita
06.   Firmeza
07.   Dança
08.   Canal
09.   Solto / Comigo

Directed By, Producer – Guilherme Kastrup
Executive Producer – Ernst von Bonninghausen

There’s a story, often repeated, about Elza Soares’ big break. The future samba icon was just a teenager when she went on Rio de Janeiro’s “Calouros em Desfile,” a talent show whose name translates as something like “Freshmen on Parade.” The daughter of a washerwoman and a laborer, she cut a strange figure for a talent show, wearing an ill-fitting dress she had pilfered from her mother’s laundry, gathering and pinning its billowing extra fabric. The audience cackled as the show’s host, Ary Barroso, incredulously asked her, “What planet are you from?” 
Soares didn’t bat an eye: “Planet Hunger.” 
She wasn’t kidding. Soares, born in 1937 (by most accounts, anyway) in one of Rio’s favelas, grew up poor and desperate. At 12, her father had forced her into an abusive marriage with the neighborhood teen he believed was raping her. She had given birth to her first son at 13; by the time she was widowed at 21, she would have four more children. She gave up one for adoption; another died of malnutrition. It’s often said that she appeared on “Calouros em Desfile” in order to win the money she needed to buy medicine for her sick child. 
It goes without saying that she won the show. Afterward, Soares would go on to develop one of the most distinctive voices in música popular brasileira, or MPB, adopting elements of scat singing and New Orleans jazz and making the most of her richly expressive rasp. Today she is fêted as a national hero: Her biographer José Louzeiro has declared her contributions to Brazil’s folk music analogous to Bessie Smith’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s to the blues.

Black, working class, and self-taught, Soares is the literal embodiment of the classic rags-to-riches story. But hardship has never loosened its grip upon her. She has endured exile, scandal, and racist opprobrium. She watched the love of her life, the legendary Brazilian soccer star Garrincha, spiral into alcoholism; he was drunk at the wheel in the accident that killed her mother. They split after he beat her, knocking out her teeth shortly before she was scheduled to appear for a television interview. Not long after he died of cirrhosis of the liver, penniless and forgotten, her son from that union died in another car wreck. All in all, she has lost five of her sons and daughters. 
Soares is 79 now, and her latest album, A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (The Woman at the End of the World) marks the kind of record few artists ever make, much less iconic figures who could be reasonably expected to live out their remaining years resting comfortably on their laurels. The album is part autobiography, part reinvention, and all provocation, channeling both her life’s pain and her incredible resilience into an alloy that is by turns jagged and molten. Written by and recorded with a group of young experimental musicians from São Paulo’s “samba sujo” (or “dirty samba”) scene, including artistic directors Guilherme Kastrup and Rômulo Fróes and members of the bands Passo Torto and Metá Metá, it is a searing, surging work of fusion that combines Afro-Brazilian styles with wiry, dissonant strands of punk and noise-rock, where the Ex mingles freely with Tom Zé. 
This is not morbid music; it is full of life, of spit and grit. This is an album in which a 79-year-old woman barks a snarling ode to the joys of fucking, “Pra Fuder”; it is an album in which a battered woman threatens to douse her abusive husband with boiling water, to parade him before the neighbors, to humiliate him in front of his mother (“Maria da Vila Matilde”). “Get him!” she shouts as the dog tears off after him, her voice ricocheting down a dizzy chain of dub delay. The combination of sounds and textures is nothing short of astonishing: the hardscrabble guitar-and-drum interplay; the horns, betraying the faintest hint of two-tone ska; and above all, her impossibly malleable voice, like a scrap of sandpaper turning into a tsunami. I don’t know of any other records that sound quite like this one: by turns wiry, warm, playful, and elegiac, it evokes twisting vines and cracked cement, with guitars that snake like the pichação graffiti of São Paulo and Rio. 
The album doubles as a portrait of contemporary Brazil—a country beset by crises, including corruption scandals, the worst recession in over a century, a wave of police brutality, and a rising tide of anti-gay violence. The opening song, “Coração do Mar,” is a musical setting of a poem by the modernist writer Oswald de Andrade—a melancholy, imagistic meditation upon loss and slavery that becomes, in her weary recitation, something like an inverse national anthem. In the stirring title track, over bright cavaquinho and swelling strings, she sings a heart-rending ode to samba, carnival, and the lifesaving qualities of music itself. “I go on singing ’til the end,” she promises, and you can tell that she means it, her voice bristling like the hair on a dog’s back. 
Soares has long advocated for the downtrodden (“I’m always singing to remind you that blacks exist,” she once said; “gays and prostitutes” too), and in “Benedita,” she pays tribute to a crack-addicted transsexual with a slug lodged in her flesh and a silver bullet in her pocket, “to kill the careless cop.” But Soares and her co-writers take more abstracted paths, too: The breezy “Firmeza” turns a brief encounter on the street into a wry, dissonant tone poem. “Dança,” a song about a dancing corpse, channels Tom Waits’ junkyard fantasias. And the cryptic, mournful “O Canal” sings of death and exodus in “the gleam of Alexander the Great’s lighthouse.” (The album’s excellent lyric sheet, including Portuguese and English translations and even footnotes for select cultural cues, goes a long way toward unlocking its intricacies.) 
It all adds up to one of the year’s most original and exhilarating listens; that is equally true of its raucous, unorthodox fusions and its quietest, contemplative moments. Just as it opens with an a cappella, the better to highlight Soares’ inimitable voice—soft as a spring lawn, coarse as ground coffee—it closes with another, “Comigo.” The song begins with dark, droning tape loops, swollen as rain clouds, but they abruptly cease, ceding the stage to Soares alone. The song is about her mother; her voice wears the scars of a lifetime of grief. “I carry my mother with me/Even though she’s gone,” she sings, a hoarse, funereal lament. “I carry my mother with me/Because she gave me her own self.” You don’t need to understand the Portuguese to feel the weight of her words: It might be the saddest song you ever heard. She sounds exhausted, worn out, run into the ground by sorrow. But in every click in her voice, in every catch in her throat, there is also defiance. All these years later, the girl from Planet Hunger refuses to back down. 
Philip Sherburne / Pitchfork

Robert E. Brown ‎– Indonesia: Bali - Gamelan Semar Pegulingan : Gamelan Of The Love God (1972)

Genre: Folk, World, & Country
Format: CDVinyl
Label: Nonesuch

A1.   Tabuh Gari
A2   Gambang
A3.   Tabuh Pisan
A4.   Barong
B1.   Sinom Ladrang
B2.   Legong Kraton - Playon

Coordinator – Teresa Sterne
Music Director – I Madé Lebah
Performer – I Madé Grindem
Recorded By, Engineer – Robert E. Brown

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Chimes ‎– The Chimes (1990)

Genre: Electronic, Funk / Soul 
Frmat: CD, Vinyl
Label: Big Break Records, Kola Red ‎

1-01.   The Chimes - Love So Tender
1-02.   The Chimes - Heaven
1-03.   The Chimes - True Love
1-04.   The Chimes - 1-2-3
1-05.   The Chimes - Underestimate
1-06.   The Chimes - Love Comes To Mind
1-07.   The Chimes - Don't Make Me Wait
1-08.   The Chimes - Stronger Together
1-09.   The Chimes - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
1-10.   The Chimes - Stay
            Bonus Tracks
1-11.   The Chimes - Bodyrock (Demo Version)
1-12.   The Chimes - So Much In Love (Extended Demo Version)
1-13.   The Chimes - Ready For Love
1-14.   The Chimes - No Need To Pretend
1-15.   The Chimes - Heaven (The Chimes Remix)
1-16.   The Chimes - True Love (Extended Version)
1-17.   The Chimes - Love Comes To Mind (Remix)
1-18.   The Chimes - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
            (US Mix)
2-01.   Pauline Henry - Heaven (Stonebridge Classic Mix)
2-02.   The Chimes - 1-2-3 (Philly Mix)
2-03.   The Chimes - Love Comes To Mind (Extended Version)
2-04.   The Chimes - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Street Mix)
2-05.   The Chimes - True Love (Louie Louie Remix)
2-06.   The Chimes - Underestimate (Special Extended Version)
2-07.   The Chimes - Stay (Extended Remix)
2-08.   The Chimes - Stronger Together (Red Zone Mix)
2-09.   The Chimes - Heaven (Heavy Club Mix)
2-10.   The Chimes - 1-2-3 (UK Raw Mix)
2-11.   The Chimes - Love Comes To Mind (Manasseh Mix)
2-12.   Pauline Henry - Heaven 2016 (DJ Spen Radio Mix)

Reissue Producer – Malcolm McKenzie, Wayne A. Dickson
Remastered By – Anders Peterson
Research (Repertoire Research) – Wayne A. Dickson

Propaganda ‎– Wishful Thinking (1985)

Genre: Electronic, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Festival Records, Island Records, ZTT

1.   Abuse
2.   Machined
3.   Laughed
4.   Loving
5.   Jewelled
6.   Loved
7.   Abuse
8.   Thought

Producer – S.J. Lispon, T.C. Horn
Remix– R. Kraushaar, P. Morley
Tape Op– Paul Wright
Written-By  – Claudia Brücken, Michael Mertens, Ralf Dorper, Susanne Freytag

Bob Mould ‎– Workbook (1989)

Style: Alternative Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Virgin, Granary Music

01.   Sunspots
02.   Wishing Well
03.   Heartbreak A Stranger
04.   See A Little Light
05.   Poison Years
06.   Sinners And Their Repentances
07.   Brasilia Crossed With Trenton
08.   Compositions For The Young And Old
09.   Lonely Afternoon
10.   Dreaming, I Am
11.   Whichever Way The Wind Blows

Bass – Tony Maimone
Cello – Jane Scarpantoni
Drums – Anton Fier
Producer, Written-By, Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Mandolin, Percussion – Bob Mould

Françoise Hardy ‎– La Maison Où J'ai Grandi (1966)

Style: Chanson, Ballad, Easy Listening
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Future Days Recordings, Sony Music, Disques Vogue

A1.   Je Changerai D'avis - Se Telefonando
A2.   Si C'est Ca
A3.   Rendez-Vous D'automne
A4.   Je Serais La Pour Toi
A5.   Peut-Etre Que Je T'aime
A6.   Il Est De Choses (Ci Sono Cose Ciu Pu Grandi)
B1.   Comme
B2.   Mes Jours S'en Vont
B3.   Qu'ils Sont Heureux
B4.   Surtout Ne Vous Retournez Pas
B5.   Tu Es Un Peu A Moi
B6.   La Maison Ou J'ai Grandi (Il Ragazzo Della Via Gluck)

Orchestra (Accompagned By) – Charles Blackwell Orchestra, Johnny Harris Orchestra

Françoise Hardy finally peaked in 1966. She met a drug-addled Bob Dylan, who unsuccessfully wooed her in his Paris dressing room, and she starred in two films: John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix and Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin. In between, she recorded a few EPs that would comprise her fifth album of French pop vocal known as “Chanson,” the final entry in a fantastic series of carefully remastered reissues of her first five French-language albums. 
La Maison Où J’Ai Grandi saw Hardy eschew the rock’n‘roll conventions that had marked her previous efforts in favor of lush pop vocal arrangements by former Joe Meek understudy, Charles Blackwell, and Tom Jones arranger, Johnny Harris. Gone were the fuzzy guitars and insistent rock beats, replaced by strings, acoustic guitars and harpsichord. Hardy’s voice remained at the forefront, more confident than ever, as she sang her own compositions, rounded out by two exquisitely chosen songs by French writers and three from Italy, thus cementing her international status to her home audience. It was her most dramatic statement to date, a gentle breeze in the torrid storm of the 1960s. 
Hardy’s life would change in the following years. She broke up with her long-time boyfriend, Jean-Marie Périer, and began an even longer relationship with Jacques Dutronc, with whom she bore a son in 1973. In 1968, she stopped performing live simply because she suffered from stage fright. She was done doing what others told her to do and she was ready to live on her own terms. It only took her five albums to get there. 
Chuck Foster / The Big Take Over

Monday, 2 September 2019

The K-Creative ‎‎– Q.E.D. (Question Everything Done) (1992)

Style: Acid Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Talkin' Loud

01.   To Be Free (Brother John) (Full Length Version)
02.   Remember Where Ya Came From
03.   Q.E.D. (Question Everything Done) (Instrumental)
04.   Hook, Line & Sinker
05.   K-Spelz Knowledge
06.   Summer Breeze
07.   Three Times A Maybe
08.   Tynebomb
09.   The New Tower Of Babel
10.   Back To The Real World
11.   Give Ya The Elbow
12.   To Be Free (Silent Blues Mix)
13.   Back To The Real World (Ambient Dub)

Alto Saxophone – Chris Bowden
Backing Vocals – Jim C., Kathleen Pearson-Thomas, The Botanist, Zen
Chapman Stick – Jim Kempe
Drums, Drum Programming – Jim C.
Electric Piano – The Botanist
Guitar – Tim Mapel, V-Love
Keyboards – The Botanist, Zen
Organ Hammond – The Botanist
Piano – The Botanist
Beats – Zen
Percussion – Jim C  – Chris Bowden
DX 7 Bass – The Botanist
Juno Bass – Zen
Jupiter 8 – The Botanist
Moog  – The Botanist
Tenor Saxophone – Chris Bowden
Trumpet – Zen
Vibraphone – Max Beasley
Rototoms – Jim C.
Programmed By – The Botanist, Zen
Lyrics By – V-Love
Rap – V-Love
Remix – The K-Creative
Producer – The K-Creative
Producer, Engineer – Adam Fuest

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Propaganda ‎– A Secret Wish (1985)

Genre: Electronic, Pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Festival Records, Island Records, ZTT

01.   Dream Within A Dream
02.   The Murder Of Love
03.   Jewel
04.   Duel
05. Frozen Faces
06.   P–Machinery
07.   Sorry For Laughing
08    Dr. Mabuse (First Life)
09.   The Chase
10.   Strength To Dream

Mixed By – Lipson, Horn
Performer – Claudia Brücken, Micheal Mertens, Ralf Dorper, Suzanne Freytag
Producer – S. J. Lipson
Voice, Instruments – Allen L. Kirkendale, A. Thein, Andrew Richards, David Sylvian, Glenn Gregory, Ian Mosely, Jonathan Sorrell, S. J. Lipson, Steve Howe, Stuart Coppland, Trevor Horn
The mid 1980’s Dusseldorf-band Propaganda’s career was both fragmented and brief. Their short, but turbulent history incorporated internal band fall-outs and line-up changes, endless studio delays, record company and contract problems and finally finished in litigation and the law courts.  
They were a band of soaring contrasts. One of their vocalists by her own admission was not a singer; the other had one of the most charismatic voices of the era. They looked to the past for much of their inspiration, yet at the same time their music, which was focused predominantly around keyboards and percussion, even now a quarter of a century on continues to sound industrially futuristic. They were eclipsed in sales and certainly hype by the runaway success of label mates Frankie Goes to Hollywood, but they also produced one of the outstanding pop records of the decade with their 1985 debut album, ‘A Secret Wish’.  
Propaganda was formed in 1982 by keyboardist Ralf Dorper, programmer Andreas Thein and vocalist Susanne Freytag. Soon afterwards they were joined by Claudia Brucken also on vocals and classically-trained percussionist Michael Mertens.  
The group, even before Brucken and Mertens joined the band, attracted the interest of Paul Morley, who had recently left his job as a music journalist at the ‘NME’ to become the “Minister of Information” and publicity officer at ZTT, the new label which he had formed with producer Trevor Horn and Horn’s manager wife Jill Sinclair.  
Propaganda became in early 1983 the second act after Frankie Goes to Hollywood to sign to ZTT. It was the only time in their existence that things were to go their way. With the Frankie phenomenon beginning to take shape after their debut single ‘Relax’ was famously banned by Radio 1 and subsequently went to no. 1 in the singles chart, Propaganda’s debut single, ‘Dr Mabuse’, did not see release until February 1984. ‘Dr Mabuse’ was the only one of their records to be produced by Horn, who had been one of the main reasons why Propaganda had initially signed to ZTT, and who had spent much of the interim before the release of ‘Dr Mabuse’, as well as producing Frankie, co-writing and playing keyboards with another ZTT signing the Art of Noise.  
It would be over a year before Propaganda’s second single, ‘Duel’, came out in April 1985 by which time Thein, who had fallen out with the rest of the group over their lack of progress, had been fired. ‘A Secret Wish’ followed in a vinyl and tape version in June, and then three months later in a CD version, which contained an extra song ‘Frozen Faces’ and different mixes of some of the tracks.  
Frankie Goes to Hollywood had had number one hits with their next two singles, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’, while ‘Relax’ had crept back up to number two. With Horn busy at work on their double debut LP ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’, and releasing remix after remix of the singles to keep them at the top of the charts, David Sylvian was offered the job of producing ‘A Secret Wish’. Although he contributed a melodic line to one of its tracks, ‘P-Machinery’, which eventually became Propaganda’s third single, Sylvian, however, declined. Bizarrely Jill Sinclair next proposed Stock, Aitken and Waterman for the job. The task, however, eventually fell to Horn’s deputy, Steve Lipson.  
By the time of the release of ‘A Secret Wish’, Propganda was, however, in severe trouble. Relations had become strained between on one side Dorper, Freytag and Mertens and on the other Claudia Brucken, who had married Morley after a quick romance, and was becoming increasingly dominant. The band had also made a classic mistake in that they had not read their contract properly before signing with ZTT. They owed them an initial £250,000 in studio costs and a mercenary 80% of any profits they subsequently made.  
For all their internal difficulties and the long period of waiting around before it was finally recorded, ‘A Secret Wish’ was, however, fantastic. 
The German film director Fritz Lang was a prime influence on the album. ‘Dr Mabuse’ was inspired by his 1932 film ‘The Testament of Dr Mabuse’. A metaphor for its time, and the last German film Lang would make before fleeing to America from the Nazis, it tells of criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse who by mind and body control starts to erode away at and to destroy the state through theft, violence and murder.  
Freytag was not a strong singer, but had a beautiful spoken voice and ‘Dr Mabuse’is opened by her eerily, mysteriously proclaiming “Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?” Brucken then takes over with a typically theatrical vocal, warning of Dr Mabuse’s impending chaos and evil. The music has a similar grandiloquence and surreality. Merten’s pounding electronic percussion; Dorper’s sweeping keyboards and an impressive collection of computer and studio effects, each of which have been constantly overlaid over one another, build the track up to orchestral and dramatic proportions.  
‘P-Machinery’ was inspired again by Lang and his 1926 silent film, ‘Metropolis’. About a futuristic society dominated by machines, it hurls together whirring synthesisers and thundering industrial noises, as Freytag and Brucken with gleeful tongue-in-cheek irony chant “Power-Force-Motion-Drive-Motion” and ham it up as a work serfs.  
‘Duel’, the other single, is in contrast to the heavy industrialisation of much of the rest of album much gentler. It was also ironically Propaganda’s most successful single, reaching no.21 in the singles chart, while ‘Dr Mabuse’ got to no. 27, and ‘P-Machinery’, which came out between the vinyl and the CD version of ‘A Secret Wish’ in July 1985, stalled at no. 50.  
Taking its lyric from a poem by an obscure Brazilian poet Favlio Volpe and telling a savage story of husband-battering and murder, this bittersweet number is the softest track in Propaganda’s short catalogue and merges a jaunty-toned vocal from Brucken with Dorper’s upbeat synths and light tinkles of percussion from Mertens.  
Its predecessor and sister track, ‘Jewel’, from which ‘Duel’ eventually drifts out, is, however, the complete opposite. A frantic rush of clamouring harsh beats, its shares the same lyrics as ‘Duel, but this time both Brucken and Freytag howl out its vocals.  
The other tracks on ‘A Secret Wish’ include the opening number, ‘Dream Within a Dream’, upon which Freytag against the cascading backdrop of a trumpet and synthesisers concludes in a lyric taken from an Edgar Allan Poe poem that everything is illusory. ‘The Murder of Love’ is a cranky industrial number about another love affair having gone violently awry. ‘Sorry for Laughing’ meanwhile is a synthesised cover of a song by the equally brief-lived early 80’s Scottish post-punk guitar act Josef K and ‘The Chase’, which combines rattling synths and percussion beats, is a reflective piece about chasing impossible dreams.  
For a brief summer Propaganda were critical successes. Their visionary combination of the old and new, tongue-in-cheek irony and dead seriousness earned them a storm of media interest. ‘A Secret Wish’ reached no. 16 in the album charts, but within six months it was all effectively over for Propaganda.  
Ralf Dorper had always conceived of the group as only being a studio project, but ZTT persuaded the other members of the band to go out on the road. Feeling that it would be impossible to translate Propaganda’s complex musical arrangements out of the studio, he refused to tour. His place in the band was supplemented for the live performances by Kevin Armstrong on guitar and former Simple Minds members Derek Forbes on bass and Brian McGee on drums.  
Claudia Brucken’s role in the group was also becoming increasingly untenable. The band had always been conceived as a four way partnership, but the other members began to feel that Paul Morley was priming his wife for a solo career. The video for ‘Duel’ thrust her to the fore, and she also recorded a single, ‘When Your Heart Runs Out of Time’ for the Nicolas Roeg film ‘Insignificance’ with Heaven 17 singer Glenn Gregory.  
Worse still was to come. In October 1985, as the band started to realise the full force of their contract, ‘Wishful Thinking’, a collection of remixes put together by Morley and which only Brucken had been informed of, was put on the market to coincide with the tour.  
Early in 1986 Dorper, Mertens and Freytag decided to break from their contract with ZTT. With Morley having been fired shortly before Christmas from ZTT after a row with Horn and Sinclair, Brucken too became briefly pro the idea of leaving the label. When she, however, issued the others with the ultimatum that she would take care of their affairs or leave the group, she found herself out of the band.  
Propaganda spent the next two years in litigation. When Horn and Sinclair found out that they wanted to leave, they hit them with an injunction preventing them from releasing music through anyone else. Dorper. Mertens and Freytag countersued. With other ZTT bands such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Art of Noise having signed equally dubious contracts also taking legal action, the matter was eventually sorted out of court in 1988 with Horn and Sinclair agreeing to let Propaganda go. The band had to still, however, pay the £250,000 in studio costs, a figure that Dorper has since claimed was artificially high. It would take them until 1997 by which time ‘A Secret Wish’ has sold over a million copies to do so.  
A second, less successful Propaganda album, ‘1234’, came out on Virgin in 1990. By the time of its release though, both Ralf Dorper and Susanne Freytag had left. Only Freytag would appear on the finished recording, and Mertens would complete the album with American singer Betsi Miller and Derek Forbes and Brian McGee.  
Propaganda‘s tale has never quite, however, drawn to a finish. In 1998, Brucken, Freytag and Mertens reunited to begin work on a third album. While no album eventually emerged, several tracks from those sessions eventually appeared on the internet. 2002 saw Freytag, Mertens and this time Dorper back together, although there were no new recordings. In 2004, revealing that there were ultimately no hard feelings if nothing else, the full line-up which had recorded ‘A Secret Wish’ including remarkably Dorper performed ‘Dr Mabuse’ at a gig at Wembley Arena to celebrate Trevor Horn’s lifetime musical achievements. This year sees ‘A Secret Wish’ reissued in a 25th anniversary deluxe edition with a different mix of the main album, 12” remixes , previously unheard demos and unreleased songs.  
The history of Propaganda ultimately remains one of missed chances and opportunities. Brilliantly conceived, ‘A Secret Wish’, however, is one of the stand out albums of the 1980s.
John Clarkson  / Penny Black Music