It’s been tricky listening to this album even though I’ve had the Blu-Ray disc for over three months! Many of those weeks saw all of the music and things to play it on out of our home and in storage. I may have heard it two or three times in the first week I had it and then everything changed as we attacked several major home improvement fronts at once! Things finally simmered down about three weeks ago and a few weekends ago I finally had the time to do something that I knew I would need, going forward. I made an analog rip of the 24/48 2.0 mix and burned a CD-R of it until such time as I can buy a copy of the actual CD! Having it to play in my car is critical as 95% of my listening happens there. And now I can put it on my personal device as well. So how is it?
xPropaganda: The Heart Is Strange – UK – Blu-Ray 5.1 
- The Night
- Chasing Utopia
- Beauty Is Truth
- Only Human
- Don’t [You Mess With Me]
- No Ordinary Girl
- The Wolves Are Returning
- Ribbons Of Steel
The roomy opener “The Night’ was well chosen to reassure fans of Propaganda. The swelling, chorused synths in the taut and syncopated introduction took the song’s curves like a champ. The appearance of Terry [Higsons] Edwards muted trumpet squeals and trills assured us that not everything here would be a machine. then at 1:42, the song settled into its glide path with synth strings heralding the appearance of singer Claudia Brücken’s delicate entry into the song. her singing, up close and intimate, with any drama coming solely from the strings.
Programmed conga percussion was another call back to the classic ZTT sound here from producer and band member Stephen Lipson. There was a hint of organ swell in the buildup to the middle eight before a drop that left only Ms. Brücken in the spotlight. Whispering in our ears in a sultry lower register before the pipe organ patch returned to swell in the coda with only Claudia singing in an echo chamber before the organ pitched skyward in a doppler shift segue to the next song.
“Chasing Utopia” offered echoes of Kraftwerk in its rhythm track as Ms. Brücken has some closer to us to whisper in our ears once more. Susanne Freytag made her appearance as she offered call and response to Claudia as a human analog delay. A lithe melodic line danced nimbly through the discipline of the rhythm; heavily laced with portamento. A luscious, sustained guitar solo pointed out the distance from Kraftwerk to xPropaganda. They had nothing to prevent them from mixing electronica with Jazz in a chilled cocktail of their own styling. Edwards trumpet solo following a tasty synth riff breakdown not only confirmed that this, but also called back to the trumpet on “Dream Within A Dream” on the Propaganda debut album.
Pulsating cascades of synth and crisp rim hits from drummer Ash Soan opened “Beauty Is Truth” followed by Susanne’s Orwellian pronouncements as Ms. Brücken whispered counterpoint over fat swirls of bass synth. Keeping her energy levels low on this album thus far. Clearly favoring intimacy over power; not that she’s ever been a belter. But the first half of this track offered role reversal between her and Susanne; with Claudia only taking lead on a verse halfway through the sleek, minimal song. Only for the original dynamic to reassert itself, with Susanne returned to the foreground for the song’s coda, where Claudia was ultimately sampled and cut up as the drums and vocals
cut out to leave the synths final word.
The first Pop song on the album was the perfect 3:00 jewel of “Only Human.” The complexity and artistic ambiguity of the earlier songs was set aside for the most straightforward lyric so far on the album. The lyric offering a mea culpa for the crime described in the title. The metronomic drumming was of a piece with the album’s vibe; mixing real and programmed drums. Offering a clean, streamlined sound very different to the dramatic overkill of “A Secret Wish.” Claudia’s vocal was higher in the mix here and the cold ending was almost shocking.
Next: …Only Stahling
Thanks for the tip! I’ve just ordered this LP.
I plumped for the deluxe package and have to confess I have only listened to the BR Audio version of the album. As with the Monk, it took mere seconds for me to be reassured that the amazing Propaganda sound has been re-stirred and re-shaken in a most delightful way. My 2x CD edition (which features non-vocal mixes for no good reason I can think of!) remains in its shrink-wrap until such time as I can luxuriate in this hot tub of sonic delights!
chasinvictoria – And the BR 5.1 version when I did listen to it on the living room rig was under typical listening conditions. That is to say, i was around the house doing work and not sitting in the “sweet spot” on the couch. So I can’t remark on the effectiveness of the surround sound mix. Or should I say mixes! [insert dramatic stinger] Others report that the DTS 5.1 mix is substantially different from the Dolby Atmos mix! I have the Atmos mix folded down to Dolby Digital 5.1, but my Denon tuner is not DTS compatible! My previous tuner was DTS compliant.
It is a great album, a suitable follow up for A Secret Wish. Going to see xPropaganda live in the Netherlands on November 10. Looking forward to that!
Ronald van Veen – Enjoy that show. I can’t imagine ever seeing Ms. Brücken live, but who knows. One day I may get lucky. I think the only tour she ever did in The States was in 2000 with Paul Humphreys.
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Will be my fourth time, I’ve seen OneTwo three times live. Was supposed to go to London for her solo live show but had to cancel it at the last moment….
Ronald van Veen – Did you have to cancel her Roundhouse show? What a tragedy! I kick myself for not adding the debt to have attended John Foxx’s similar career retrospective at The Roundhouse, that had him playing Ultravox material with Robin Simon and the public debut of The Maths! p.s. The spam filter does not like your comments But I look there several times a day so don’t panic if it takes an hour or three to show up.
Yes, the Roundhouse show…. It was a big tragedy indeed!