The Nerve Centre
Fizzing with conflicting creative energies, Propaganda could have been a disaster. Instead they constructed a masterpiece.
PROPAGANDA A Secret Wish (ZTT/SALVO)
A TRUE MASTERPIECE—Something that pierces the soul like a bullet—
In popular music there are similarly inspired individuals achieving great things. But popular music, if it has innovated in anything, has facilitated the creative potential of the team effort. Sets of two and four have achieved great things—
That this engagingly gloomy masterpiece was completed at all is a bloody great clanging exception to all that. Propaganda, policed by peripheral meddlers, never seemed to be a group in any conventional sense. They were memorably described by some inky wag as the “Abba from hell”. Such is the tangled mess of drift and accident, chance and clanger, the confluence of business types and techno dweebs, theorists and contradictory panhandlers who contributed to A Secret Wish, it’s a wonder they didn’t end up sounding like some industrial Bucks Fizz. As the work of a committee of contributors, it should have been a mess with no significant identity to speak of. Twenty-five years on, it remains a very lonely highpoint of ‘80s avant pop—
Propaganda began as the brainchild of Ralf Dörper (formerly of the definitively Deutsche industrialists Die Krupps) and artist Andreas Thein. The pair were visible only to German enthusiasts until they teamed up with seasoned muso and arranger Michael Mertens. Claudia Brücken joined original vocalist Suzanne Freytag, making up an alluring but simultaneously forbidding anti-Annifrid-and-Agnetha front line.
Although Horn did little more than oversee Billy Whizz engineer Lipson’s work, his trademark Fairlight squirts, synthetic Synclavier stabs and reverb-crazy hugeness were still staples of a sonic template that was showily impressive.
Cameos from prog pixie Steve Howe on guitar, members of Japan and off-duty cop Stewart Copeland could have created further confusion. They all bleed seamlessly into ultra-confident widescreen constructions of stately and at times symphonic beauty. Crystalline sequenced set pieces are underpinned by convincingly forbidding industrial percussion. They’re mixed in a way that predates the adventurousness of house and techno—
With the (on paper at least) unlikely Frankie Goes To Hollywood suddenly slung into interstellar orbit, and Art Of Noise the toast of the UK charts and hip-hop America, ZTT never gave the unexpectedly beautiful end result the promotional attention it clearly deserved. The group were parcelled off on multi-date rock tours that—
For a generation of obsessives, ZTT came to mean something—