Title: The duel in ZTT crown
Author: RD Cook
Source: NME

A year after the hit single ‘Dr Mabuse’, Propaganda re-emerge from the ZTT factory with ‘Duel’. Richard Cook asks Claudia Brucken and Michael Mertens why it is pop and not higher German art. Photo by Four Eyes.

One day after the gruesome frivolity of national VE night. I am fraternising with two friendly quarters of German Propaganda. War, what is it good for? When Claudia Brucken refers with a shudder to a recent tabloid headline — along the lines of “Death Of An SS Monster” — I feel ashamed to be Anglo-Saxon.

Here it is, though, that the international play on German musik, manners and morals is roosting. A year after the piledriving locomotive ride of ‘Dr. Mabuse’. ZTT’s model Europeans are at last continuing their journey into the heart of a carefully orchestrated “Germany” with ‘Duel’/’Jewel’, a two-tier single from the new Propaganda line-up: Claudia, Ralf Dorper and Suzanne Freytag, plus part-timer Michael Mertens now fully qualified in place of Andreas Thein.

Wait! What is this untroubling glide around the Eurodisco floor? ‘Duel’ seems a docile invitation to the bop after its predecessor, too much like anybody’s dancemix.

Michael: “We knew that not everybody who liked ‘Mabuse’ would like this, but we wanted to do a pop song. There should be that possibility, because we’re pop group. We’re trying to make a picture out of every song we do, and ‘Duel’ is a picture of a pop song.”

Claudia: “It’s the light side of Propaganda. We went into a very dark corner with ‘Dr Mabuse’ but Propaganda has many sides. ‘Duel’ is a very pure song and it has two sides —’Jewel’ is the tough side of ‘Duel’.”

Michael: “That’s the meaning of a duel — two sides fight against each other.”

And ‘Jewel’ is much more angrily on the mark. Th???? turned into a serrated ???? with a melody bursting out at the end. In the co???? ‘A Secret Wish’, their impending LP, the song???? seem like a soft interval???? rough mixes of the album churn with textures and variations heavier than ???? has as heard in a long time???? the colossal drone of ‘Dream Within A Dream’ to a fanatically grim version of Josef K’s ‘Sorry For Laughing’.”

Here, indeed is the Germanic exotica Bohn???? of — wrathfully Teutonic, jubilant, glamourous. Seems unlikely that such affable people as Michael and Claudia can be involved. Mertens, an accomplished classical percussionist, is sincere and goonish; he earns my approval for his knowledge of improvisers like Brotzman and Schlippenbach. Claudia is a shrewd, irrepressibly ga???? creature.

All the same, ‘Duel’ is only pop — hardly in keeping with Propaganda’s early pronouncements about high German art being the only influence on the group’s work.

“Oh, that’s not right!” protests Michael. “I think that there’s a lot of influence from the classical area because I’ve worked with a classical orchestra for years. And with ‘Mabuse’ we had a theme at the end of the song that was worked out as a variation, like a movement in classical music. I suppose there’s classical influence from the chords and the way we put them together.”

Dangerous. Might be Yes with a disco beat.

“Well, I hope not. I don’t want a classical-pop mixture. Sometimes things feel a bit too heavy, but it’s a question of balance. You know, Propaganda has always been intended to be a pop group. When I met Ralf he asked me if I wanted to be in a pop group!”

Did Claudia want to be a pop singer?

“I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to sing different things. I want to have an experience — expression — in every song. In ‘Duel’ it is pop, so I sing it as pop. But I don’t see it as just a pop song. I like Ralf’s ideas about words, his playing with words.”

“It’s not just la-la-la-la.”

The selling of Propaganda continues through what is now ZTT’s time-honoured style — sleeves littered with words, a whirl of images to suggest that this isn’t just anything. Michael professes a certain disinterest in the graphical side; Claudia avers that they open the way for the listener to find something more, if they want. I suspect that FGTH, who got as successful as anyone could be, tend to finally prove that pop can ‘do’ almost nothing — but who knows?

Something odd, though, about this German opera taking root in England. Couldn’t they have brought it off at home (where ‘Dr Mabuse’ actually went Top Ten) instead of in exile?

Michael: “If we’d taken ‘Mabuse’ to a German record company there would never have been a record. An unknown band, with only on person who’d done a record before… in England you find more people who are open-minded. If we’d wanted to do it there, we’d have to sing in German.”

Why has Andreas — who seemed to personify the mad genius Mabuse — left?

“We had problems, personally,” says Michael slowly. “We had a long time to wait, after we did ‘Mabuse’, and we went back to Germany to work in our studio — and we had problems with Andreas. We decided that is was better for everybody that we did different things.”

The old personal and musical differences, though it remains to be seen if the loss of Thien will dull the sting of Propaganda. It’s a thin time for Germans in our ugly island. How are they greeted here?

Claudia: “I thought the Daily Mirror thing was a bit disgusting, that they could come up with such a thing. When there was a D-Day anniversary I felt frustrated because all the TV was about the war and the monster Germans. I think British people are a bit over the top in these things. They should be thinking more about what’s happening now.”

Michael: “I found it interesting, when I first came over, that there were all these films and programmes on television about the war, and it was so strange — you don’t see these kinds of film in Germany. I don’t know if it’s a complex in Germany, but it’s as if when it ended they wanted to forget. And it’s not finished, because it’s not finished, because it’s not finished inside themselves.”

“And when you come over here,” continues Claudia, “there’s all these jokes about Hitler and everything… you shouldn’t forget it because you can’t forget it, but it should stop sometimes. It depressed me. Maybe VE Day is stopping the single getting up!”

Maybe we can’t grasp your humour.

“Part of the German character,” nods Michael with the air of a wise old bumpkin. “We don’t pretend we have another character to what we have. I like this heavy stuff, very rigid and beat it and hit it!”

“It grows in Germans,” smiles Claudia.

What do you want people to do with Propaganda? They each have a story.

Claudia: “Yes, I quite like the idea of people listening to the record and looking into our ideas. And some do. We got a letter from America from a teacher who studied ‘Mabuse’ with his class and examined all the themes.”

Michael: “When I started to listen to pop music, I grew up in a very little city and I knew there was an outside world where something exciting was going on. When people listen to us that’s what I want them to realise — that there’s something exciting. Some records I heard by Kinks and Traffic, I heard every day and knew every line, and even though I didn’t understand all the words they all had a meaning for me.

“It’s like a message for yourself, the beginnings of a fantasy starting to work. And if you see that as a political aspect, I would say yes — people beginning to discover a potential. For me it’s like my whole life is going into music, pop or not, and I’m sure that’ll continue to happen. You’re always giving something to other people.”

And bizarrely, Michael gives us his rendition of ‘Painter Man’. What a singer! No wonder they’re in exile!