Twenty years ago the early web was buzzing with the news that the real Propaganda were back together and recording a new album. We could put the false Propaganda who had made the dull, lifeless “1234” album in 1990 on the burning pyre of history best forgotten. Against all odds, relations were patched up between Michael Mertens, Susanne Freytag, and Claudia Brücken and a new album was underway. The website was at propahanga.de and it featured a tiny web video of a cinematic looking video clip for the song “No Return” as made by one “Keyser Soze,” a 90s reference if ever there were one.
Naturally, I signed up to the mailing list and one day got the email saying that a new version of the great single “Duel” was available for download with the password that was emailed to each person who had signed up. So we downloaded the oh so moderne “Duel [Y2K Mix]” in all of its 128 kbps, MP3 glory. Twenty years later, it remained the only official release of any music from that ill-starred reunion, and today we revisit it for a listen.
Right from the start it was a whole new “Duel.” Dubby loops of Claudia saying “eye to eye” with a fat Eurohouse beat underneath with four-to-the-floor. Hints of acid house on the synths that replaced the synthetic horns of the original. Raveloops recirculated endlessly as Ms. Brücken crooned on top of it all. After 15 years in the business, her vocal was decidedly smoother than the 1st version.
As this was undoubtedly the product of loops in a DAW, the energy here was all neat and tidy and completely quantized. There were subtle filips that stepped outside of the rave-lite environment of the track. The occasional deeptwang guitar sample; sounding like a lift from Badalamenti’s “Twin Peaks” work made a brief appearance a few times. Elsewhere, some of the song’s reliable traits were still evident, like the borderline ludicrous piano glissando still here. After which the beat dropped out to leave the shimmering synths for a couple of bars.
But it always got back to business. returning to a four-on-the-floor, workmanlike chug; with a scant string patch in the fadeout to pull the listener thorough the repetitive stasis the beat engendered. For all the world, this seemed like less the product of Michael Mertens of Propaganda than it seemed to be a late 90s remix of the track, as we understood the term by that point in time. By some modern DJ. It definitely took second place to the creamy perfection of the original but certainly didn’t overstay its welcome at a polite 4:23.
Tellingly, Ralf Dorper was not involved as he was back to working with Die Krupps as he had been following the dissolution of Propaganda, so none of the high drama he brought to the table was to be found here. This was a somewhat perfunctory revisit of an old classic wearing the fashions of the day; perhaps even a few years out of date, with some pride. We’re glad we have this, but it remains a curio from the unreleased third Propaganda era that never even got off the starting blocks, save for this track.
– 30 –