By the autumn of 1984 ZTT records—the creation of husband and wife Trevor Horn (producer) and Jill Sinclair (businesswoman) along with ex-journalist Paul Morley (ideas, sleeve notes, controversy etc.)—seemed to be a glorious, unstopped success. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were just about to have their third number one after their previous two singles (‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’) has already become two of the ten best selling singles in Britain every. Propaganda were album doing well with their haughty German synthpop. Even the more avant-garde instrumental sound collages of the Art Of Noise has slipped into charts with ‘Close (To The Edit)’. The t-shirt, the sleeve notes, the slogans the remixes and the brilliantly manoeuvred sense of outrage sense of outrage and playfulness were everywhere.
Since then it’s all gone horribly horribly wrong. The next signings—Anne Pigalle (a French chanteuse, cigarette permanently drooping from her fingers) and Andrew Poppy (and intellectual systems musician who smelt disturbingly like Mike Oldfield for the ‘80s)—were greeted with tired apathy. The clever one-offs—like Roy Orbison’s bizarre comeback—also failed. Even their established artists began to go off. Frankie rowed with ZTT, made a dull LP, rowed with each other and split up. The Art Of Noise rowed with ZTT (the three musicians involved felt they did all the work, got too little of the money and none of the credit) broke free of their contract and left.
Which is why now, in May 1987, releasing a record and ZTT is more hindrance than help. Take Act—a collaboration between Propaganda’s Claudia Brucken (Morley’s wife) and failed electropop musician Thomas Leer. The whole idea of their partnership has been beautifully conceived—a camp duo who place Liberace and Quentin Crisp on their record sleeve, who namedrop Calvin Klein’s ‘Obsession’, Noel Coward’s charm, Chanel perfume and Duchess of Windsor, who claim to have written a musical called ‘Name Dropping (songs for young sinners)’, and who have slipped a version of ‘Evita’ soundtrack’s ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’ onto the B-side of their first single. The single itself is called ‘Snobbery and Decay’ (that’s Crisp and Liberace, you see) and it’s rather good indeed in an overwhelming electronic way. The sad thing is that all the aforementioned baggage that comes with it—the stuff that helped make ZTT famous—is these days more likely to detract from its chances. That’s because to most people this clutter of symbols—clever as it is—only reminds them of one thing: ZTT’s plunge into dullness.