xPropaganda: A Secret Place UK CD 
- Dream Within A Dream
- The Murder Of Love
- Frozen Faces
- Sorry For Laughing
- Dr. Mabuse
- The Chase
- Strength To Dream
- Femme Fatale
As a huge fan of Propaganda [MK I], I immediately bought into the notion of an album made from the two concerts that Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag, and Steven Lipson held in March of this year in the UK. Inasmuch as the album itself was an acme of technological achievement, I wondered to myself just which aspects of it, if any, would necessarily translate to the live arena? Especially 30+ years afterward when the stigma of “backing tapes” no longer exists. That means now that the entire multitrack recording in any way or shape the artist chooses, may be a part of their live presentation. Hmmmm. <furrows brow>
Since the concert was the classic LP played from start to finish [with a few B-sides and a song from their earliest session thrown in to make it more substantial], it began with “Dream Within A Dream.” The band here sounded live and jazzy with almost none of the music feeling canned. Sam Tate’s trumpet led one into the heart of the song while the percussion of Luís Jardim replicated all of the rhythmic complexity that he had previously placed on the original. Susanne Freytag recited the lyrics as she would handle all of the voice-over portions of the music this evening. Even those normally vocalized by the male members not present. Elsewhere, producer/guitarist Steven Lipson added his lithe guitar to the mix; defiantly not replicating the original solo by Steve Howe of Yes that graced the LP version. I was thrilled that it was decidedly different and reveled in Lipson’s solo that matched the vibe of the Howe solo but went off in very different melodic tangents.
This song had been much more alive and breathing that I had dared hope for up front, but that would prove to be the extreme of such an ideal for this album. In reality, songs on a track-by-track basis would vacillate between being largely playback or being quite lively; with most sitting in the middle. “Jewel” was proffered in close to its 12″ length. The drum machine mayhem was all Memorex, but the drums and percussion overlaid live added some grit. As did Lipson’s guitar though it was mixed far down until the ending coda, where the song finally took flight. The song’s angelic twin seemed to have little live apart from the drums and percussion. The famous Synclavier® middle eight was thoroughly playback.
Things became more interesting on the expansive seven and a half minute version of “Frozen Faces” placed between “side one” and “side two,” as on the original UK CD version. The live keyboards rode over the rhythm playback to give a groovy, jazz edge to the song. The spectral wail of Lipson’s Service Guitar® added an intensity of tone to the arrangement. There was no distortion in his playing, so the end result has the texture of being strings or synths. Tate’s trumpet also was added to the song’s extra open space for soloing.
“p: Machinery” had an extended intro that gained an intriguing new drop for a bar, exposing the pulsating bass and percussion before the point where Ms. Brücken began singing. I thought that in spite of the distinctive but canned rhythm and famous Horn Riff From Hell® shackling the song, that the playing for the most part dared to roam a bit more freely. Ms. Freytag slammed the Simmons kit quite ably during the song’s middle eight.
More canned rhythms heralded the delicious “Sorry For Laughing.” The growling, subsonic synth should have been higher in the mix, but the organ leads were recompense. Then the awe-inspiring “Mr. Mabuse” began with the same foley effects of the familiar LP version. I deeply love this song but the version here was like hearing Propaganda karaoke. With phones on, I could barely hear anything live apart from the vocals. The drums following the middle eight were finally live but that was the extent of it, apart from a spritz of mournful guitar in the coda.
The always delightful track “The Chase” had some sparkle; again down to Lipson and the synth bass that sounded live here. The song is so gorgeous that it gained a new life in its somewhat pared back live rendition. Then came “Strength To Dream” with delightful filigree of percussive detail thanks to Mr. Jardin. Once again the hands of Lipson added life to this program. How I wish this album had been shot through with his capable guitar, instead of the seasoning that was delivered. Guitars and Propaganda definitely mixed, as the great McGeoch definitively proved with his aggressive playing.
After the album the Throbbing Gristle cove of “Dizplin” was played. Fans had heard this as the instrumental dub version on the “Wishful Thinking” album, but this was the full song, with Ms. Freytag verbalizing the song over the frantic, dark techno pop backing. Then it was time for the last song; an outstanding version of “Femme Fatale” that like the opening track, sounded almost completely live, save for the programmed toms. The martial snares were magisterial. The piano was winsome in its ironic innocence. The backing vocals of the gentlemen perfect. A timeless moment was captured here.
This album was more than I expected, yet it remained a tantalizing look at the prospect of this most ornate album actually played live, which it certainly fell short of. I wish that the artists had the budget and confidence to have radically restructured the entire album to be played without resorting to backing of any kind. Lipson’s guitar was a constant bright spot and the voices of Brücken and Freytag have never sounded better. It’s a must for fans of “A Secret Wish” who thirst for anything else they can get from this era. It plays as a slightly askew döppleganger of a much beloved album and gives hints as to how it could become a living and breathing presence in ways that it did here from time to time. For the uninitiated, the classic album [UK first CD printing, please] remains the best entrée into their realm of ornate, even orchestral, deep synth chiaroscuro.
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