Saint or Sinner? The Stephen Hague Problem

I’m a bit conflicted on the subject of producer Stephen Hague. I seem to have many of his productions in the Record Cell and at first I had no negativity associated with his name on a record. I first heard some of his very early productions, such as Slow Children and Gleaming Spires. I remembered that he was in Jules + The Polar Bears, but I never heard that band.

He started to hit the big time when he produced the single “Madame Butterfly” for Malcolm McLaren. That little piece of work seemed to turn a few heads. I liked the record well enough. It apparently led to OMD selecting him as producer for their sixth album, “Crush.” Back in the think of things, I was amazed to see that this album managed to see the group finally getting a foothold on the US charts; lovely. But the fact remained that the band’s sound, especially with hindsight, was severely compromised in accomplishing this feat. Songs like “So In Love” were wimpy, mainstream tracks by a band that had once vowed to never write a love song.

In all fairness, the group’s fourth album, the divisive “Dazzle Ships” was a radically unsuccessful album that sold 1/10th of what their previous album had sold. That, in turn, had made the band sweat and attempt to chase the charts for the rest of their career, at least until the band split apart in 1988. Knowing that, I can’t really blame Hague even though OMD’s Andy McCluskey now regrets having Hague produce the “Crush” album and its followup, “The Pacific Age.” Of course, Andy has loads of regrets he’s more than happy to discuss.

So it may have been that with getting OMD in the charts in the US, Hague got something of a “Todd Rundgren” reputation.” Back in the seventies and early eighties, bands who weren’t selling often found themselves being produced by Todd Rundgren, following his production of Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell,” which managed to made Marvin Lee Ayday into the least likely rock superstar in the world. I imagine the thought was “well, they’re not selling – let’s see what Rundgren can do with them…”

But then, I have to admit that I consider his production of New Order’s “True Faith” as the band’s best single. After 24 years I’m still not tired of hearing it. I consider it a true classic, and that’s with the full knowledge that the brief was to ‘write and record a single that would break the band in America.” Maybe it’s because I was never a Joy Division fan and was only a casual New Order fan [though I bought everything they released] that I had no problem with the poppiness of the cut. I found the song wildly successful on any level.

Another more recent Hague job was for Claudia Brücken’s “Thank You” and I consider it a stellar production by Hague; one of his very best.

Claudia Brucken – Thank you from martin gooch on Vimeo.

It actually goes far to obviate much of the sonic qualities that makes so much of Hague’s 80s productions less than stellar to my ears. It may come down to the fact that it was the synths and treatments of the time, that anyone might have used in production, which were the cause of what I considered the mediocrity of the “Hague sound” looking back. Digital synths with their “plastic” sound and shallow feel may have had far more to do with my disdain for many Hague productions than the man himself.

With these admissions, I ask the people who read this blog to weigh in with what they have to offer on the topic of Stephen Hague. You can be an opinionated bunch; so now’s your time to make some noise. To aid you in this discussion, here’s a list of various Stephen Hague productions in the old Record Cell. Feel free to discuss others.

  • Slow Children – Slow Children
  • Slow Children – Mad About Town
  • Hilary – Kinetic
  • Malcolm McLaren – Madame Butterfly
  • OMD – Crush
  • OMD The Pacific Age
  • Pet Shop Boys – Please
  • Pet Shop Boys – Actually
  • Pete Shelley – Heaven + The Sea
  • Various – Some Kind Of Wonderful OST
  • Blow Monkeys – Whoops! There Goes The Neighborhood [partial]
  • PiL – 9
  • Pere Ubu – Cloudland
  • Pere Ubu – Worlds In Collision
  • Erasure – The Innocents
  • New Order – True Faith
  • New Order – Republic
  • The Other Two – The Other Two + You
  • Electronic – Disappointed [single mix]
  • Siouxsie + The Banshees – Superstition

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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20 Responses to Saint or Sinner? The Stephen Hague Problem

  1. Taffy says:

    Pretty sure Hague produced albums I quite enjoy by the Communards and Jimmy Somerville solo. Not really convinced that they sound passe, but that may be a function of my listening to so much 80’s music that I find it difficult to peg something as current versus dated. Guess I come down on the “pro-Hague” side of things!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – You are correct. I can’t go there for Jimmy Somerville/Communards/early Bronski Beat. He’s just a singer that I can’t take. I was happy when Bronski Beat got a new vocalist.

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  2. ronkanefiles says:

    I don’t think I own (or would listen to) any albums on your Hague list, Jim-san…

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  3. Echorich says:

    The fact that he got his “stripes” by impressing McLaren with his work with The Rock Steady Crew and then “getting the gig” to produce Madame Butterfly is a pretty impressive entree into the big leagues.
    But Hague has had his hand in a number of albums which have seen artist’s I love produce their most disappointing work. OMD is far and away the number one example of this. The Banshee’s Superstition is another example, but over time the songs have overshadowed Hague’s “chart wise” production.
    At the same time he has found a real producer/artist bond with bands like Pet Shop Boys and New Order.
    He is definitely the go to producer when trying to get a band or artist to chart, but that usually means enhancing the bland rather than exploring anything new or exciting.
    Finally the thing that always sticks out for me with Stephen Hague is his association with John Hughes – to the point of Executive Producing the soundtrack to Some Kind of Wonderful. There’s a conspiracy in that I’m sure…

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  4. Tim says:

    “Republic” certainly isn’t what I would use as a calling card for New Order. When it came to 12” product in the 1980’s if I saw his name I generally would keep looking, a lot of the time even if it was a band I would buy just about everything by.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – It was that mediocrity which I felt could be laid at his feet. The occasional flash of brilliance didn’t erase the obvious compromises that occurred with many artists. Is there a more mediocre album than “Heaven & The Sea,” by Pete Shelley? It’s so perfunctory! Then there’s “Superstition.” Siouxsie & The Banshees at their ear-gouging worst!! I liked the Pet Shop Boys songs, but did they ever have great production? Their early work could have been so much better. Here’s a test. Imagine any Stephen Hague production with Conny Plank in the producer’s chair instead. What a difference, eh? What he could have given PSB, eh? Too bad he died so early.

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  5. chas_m says:

    While I can’t claim to be an expert on this, it seems to me that his “balance sheet” comes down more positive than negative overall, and factors we can’t really know like his relationships with the bands and who wanted what direction come into play here. He does, at least, have excellent taste in bands he chooses to work with — but at worst I’d say he’s a utility producer that can on occasion produce great stuff when the stars align. That’s better than most producers in my view.

    It might be a wee bit unfair to compare Hague to the god-like Plank, but I’d still call him above-average. Still, had we gotten Trevor Horn on those albums, I sure as HELL wouldn’t say no …

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chas_m – I broached the subject because he cropped up more than once in the comment section. I’m kind of conflicted in that I’d like to dismiss him out of hand. He’s produced some real sell-out records by favorites if mine. Yet, when he approached New Order with a specific brief to do so, I will admit that I found the results stellar. “True Faith” is my favorite New Order song. I can’t deny that. There are a lot if his productions on the racks, but honestly, I sometimes think I have too many. They’re just not compelling on the whole. He nags at me. But I suppose he’s better that a Stephen Lipson who produced the classic Propaganda debut album. Everything after that acme was straight in the dumper from him! Worse, he’s responsible for the worst albums by Ultravox and Simple Minds! High crimes in the land of The Monk!!

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  6. Robyn says:

    All I can say is he’s a very nice guy. Was a good friend of my brother’s from 7th grade forward. That said he’s a bit vain. He and my brother are the same age. Born in 1953 not 1960. Old guys trying to stay young I guess.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Robyn – Welcome to the comments! Wow – we now have inside information on Stephen Hague! In the years since this post I’ve edged closer to the conclusion that it’s more the label at work in imposing any artistic compromises with the artists involved. My first exposure to his work was his production with Slow Children [never really heard Jules + the Polar Bears] and I’ve taken that production as a sound artistic baseline for his work, no matter what may have happened later. And his recent production with Claudia Brücken [especially the song “Thank You”] I find to be a career best for his production. That’s nothing too many can claim that long into a musical career.

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  7. Hiya! Celeste album by post-punk band Joi Noir was co-produced by Stephen Hague recently. Thought you might like it.

    Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/3hJhO8NHpRdXF3Hu7fcVpy?si=zrbf7Eg7TmOlHx4Y-OgGNA

    YouTube: https://youtu.be/mKjx6BIgU_k

    Here’s our New Order cover made in the time of COVID-19 isolation: https://youtu.be/6yRXNz2JTeA

    Cheers!

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  8. Gavin says:

    My dear late friend Gregory Gray had his third solo album produced by Hague in 1995.
    His production style definitely has its own feel and is recognisable amongst the surrounding 80s/90s flotsam and jetsam.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – Condolences for your loss. I’d not heard of Mr. Gray but data out there is very scanty! Though I can see the cover and song list to “Euroflake In Siverlake,” the Discogs page says not a whit about the personnel involved. I am surprised that this 8 year old post about Stephen Hauge from the hoary early years of PPM is getting so many comments of late – though I’m not complaining!

      Like

  9. David B says:

    I was going to mention Annie Lennox ‘Little Bird’ and Sophie B Hawkins ‘Right Beside You ‘ for great electro pop records but then realised they were produced by Stephen Lipson ! Who ever he is

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      David B – Welcome to the comments! Wow. More activity on the Hague thread. Steven Lipson was Trevor Horn’s right-had-man at ZTT Rrecords. He produced the seminal Propaganda album “A Secret Wish,” apart from the “Dr. Mabuse” single which was Trevor Horn’s brilliant and unsurpassed, in my opinion, handiwork. By the time Propaganda were recording their album, Horn was up to his eyeballs in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood album, so Lipson got the nod and acquitted himself admirably. Unfortunately, he got a lot of work producing terrible albums [“Street Fighting Years” by Simple Minds, “Brilliant” by Ultavox] on the reputation he made on Propaganda.

      Like

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