Record Review: xPropaganda – A Secret Place

xPropaganda Ltd. | UK | CD | Dx/01 | 2018

xPropaganda: A Secret Place UK CD [2018]

  1. Dream Within A Dream
  2. The Murder Of Love
  3. Jewel
  4. Duel
  5. Frozen Faces
  6. p:Machinery
  7. Sorry For Laughing
  8. Dr. Mabuse
  9. The Chase
  10. Strength To Dream
  11. Disziplin
  12. 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.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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14 Responses to Record Review: xPropaganda – A Secret Place

  1. Mark Moerman says:

    I’ve been really enjoying this disc, though am largely in agreement with your appraisal; love it for what it is, lamenting the lost opportunity of how much more it might have been, but grateful that it exists at all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mark Moerman – I shudder to think what it might have been if the entire album had been as lively as the two amazing tracks that bookended the project. I think they could have taken this album down a jazz alley to my further astonishment – just as long as the Jazz Police didin’t catch wind of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Echorich says:

    In a strictly clinical assessment of A Secret Place I am in agreement with you Monk. But there is still something thrilling, something subversive, something wonderful in that this recording exists. That there is an xPropaganda and that they acquitted themselves honorably as artists and keepers of A Secret Wish, is really a joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – “Clinical.” You said a mouthful, there. But I’m working on it!! Even in compromise I am delighted by the sheer existence of this album. I need to count up all of the copies of “A Secret Wish” that I own. The number is getting up there! All of these purchases were merited by its rarefied status as the last great album of the 80s. There…someone had to say it!! There were some great albums in the years of 1986-1990 [Act, Black, Swing Out Sister come to mind] but “A Secret Wish” was a titan that stood far above those delights, which were redolent of the watered down 80s that could no longer astonish. Say what you will, but “A Secret Wish” was an astonishing album.

      And yes, aren’t we glad that the singers and producer honored that legacy? I still suspect we have not heard the last of it, either. In the 21st Century that we inhabit, commerce will not relent until there is a live orchestral version of this album. You know this deep within your soul. Admit it! The question is how many years [or is that months] will we wait for the announcement? Save those shekels now, children!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. jayc101 says:

    Great review, I wasn’t aware of this being released. I have ordered it this morning. Thanks.


  4. Ronald van Veen says:

    What a great review! I’m a Propaganda fan ever since “Dr Mabuse” was released on continued following Claudia Brücken after she left Propaganda. I ordered this xPropaganda CD as soon as it was possible and listened to it quite a lot since it arrived. A signed edition…. what else could I wish for? Well… to attend an xPropaganda concert…. The ‘A Secret Place” CD is not the best CD in my collection but it is a really nice way to hear those Propaganda songs live again. The only live experience I had so far was a live concert on Dutch TV and a couple of Propaganda songs when attending three OneTwo concerts. Thanks again for this review and to show how much I love “P:Machinery” I named my website about the kind of music I like after that song…


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Ronald van Veen – Welcome to the comments! You’ll find a great love for Propaganda Mk 1/Ms. Brücken here @ PPM. They produced the last epic album of the 80s for my money with “ A Secret Wish.” Too bad about the second one. I need to revisit “1234” again to see if it still provokes enmity.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Say what you want about the horn riff from hell in pMachinery, but to me it is as thrilling as the William Tell Overture horn. This song really communicates the “you can do anything” vibe that rouses me out of my default state (sloth) and inspires me to projects, scribblings, and evil schemes. I think the real thrill and value of this album (which obviously wanted to stick as close as possible to the originals) is in hearing a live audience appreciate this fantastic work as much as I do. Not to mention hearing Frau Brücken (whinny!) in as fine a form as ever! While as a live record it might border on perfunctory, the crowd’s appreciation and the strength of the material lift it up to supremacy. This might be among my top 10 or so of live albums just on the quality of the music.

    All that said, yes — the band should go and have a chat with Martyn Ware on how to break free of overuse of pre-programmed tracks (except as an occasional cherry on top of the live cake).

    Liked by 1 person

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