Nobody put their mark on contemporary pop music in the mid-80´s like Trevor Horn did. Establishing his record company ZZT (Zang Tumb Tumb, getting the name from a sound poem by Italian futurist Marinetti), Horn made history with releases from ABC, The Buggles and most of all Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A creative powerhouse using the best talent around enhanced by the cutting edge technology of the time. Much of this is part of musical history, and as such impervious classics. Propaganda was probably the most unique group that this hotter than hot label was able to get their hands onto.
Formed in Dusseldorf in 1982 it took until 1985 for their first records to be released. Landmark album “A secret wish” was produced by Stephen Lipson under the auspices of Trevor Horn. While more than 30 years old today, this is a collection of songs that went way beyond what was expected of pop music at the time, and still does today. I have very fond memories of getting this record on vinyl at first release, and have been listening to it occasionally ever since. So many years later this still sounds like modern music pushing the envelope.
Opener “Dream within a Dream” builds around a spoken poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and in it´s original version delivers 8 minutes of dreamy pop melodies with mutating bubbling rhythms. Not many bands would dare to have this piece of music as the first track of their first album. Every time I listen to it I´m just as mesmerized as the first time in 1985. There´s not that much around that beats this one as an opening track. Melody, atmosphere, the propulsive beats and a certain amount of drama made this an instant classic.
“The murder of love” went further into the budding electro-pop territory with timeless verses and chorus, as well as an oddly fitting instrumental part of jazzy guitar. The evil twins of “Jewel/Duel” juxtapositioned the same song as both abrasive dark electronica and melodic electronic pop. Very few bands could write a chorus like that, as well as executing it as seemingly effortless as is done here.
p:Machinery went all in when it came to ecstatic synthesized pop, with an ear-worm faux-brass riff never to be forgotten. Absolutely impossible to sit still when this one blasts from the speakers. Great melody coupled with throbbing rhythms. Full of dark joy and flow.
The choice of covers also defines a group, and the decision to remake classic Josef K song “Sorry for laughing” was as well made as the song itself. There´s both novelty and adherence to the original in this version. Great music put through a time-warp and coming out as something unexpectedly shiny and new.
“Dr Mabuse (First Life)” was a rework of their first single, the obvious Fritz Lang references setting the tone. Done in several different mixes, but on the original album concentrated and concise. Sprung from one of the band´s oldest songs that over a period of time metamorphosed into this glowing gem.
“The Chase”, slowly flowing with dreamy melodies starts the winding down of the album, ending with “The last Word (Strength to Dream)”. An instrumental piece finishing “A secret wish” just as it begun, with Susanne Freytag reciting the opening lines of the Poe poem.
Shortly after the vinyl release, a CD-version appeared with an additional song, remixes and a slightly different running order. The thing to go for today is of course the Deluxe 2010 2 disc reissue, with all the material from both the original vinyl and CD´s, as well as an entire disc´s worth of wonderful extra material. If nothing else a good way of getting the exclusive “Do well” cassette songs from 1985.
Although the band came to a slightly messy end, this album lives on as their legacy. A dark and exciting excursion into what electronic pop could have become, that succeeded in being both art and entertainment. The music complemented by the artwork, stylish black and white imagery of the band, the sense of mystery and of course the at the time shocking Baader-Meinhof quote. A must have in every record collection.