[…continued from last post]
The pre-release single from the album was the other pure pop number here. The delightfully defiant “Don’t [You Mess With Me].” Right there as the lead song on side two, if you’re of an LP persuasion. The synth bass, sax, and the drums growled with truculence, but the sustained piano patch floated over it all; aloof and above the fray. Ms. Brücken bit the lyric with a staccato delivery and was touched by vocal effects in the mix. When Susanne Freytag came in for her sternly delivered, bilingual, spoken word middle eight it was the right sort of hostility that this song demanded, but leaving the last word to the cymbals and Claudia Brücken.
The dry urgency of the drums quickly gave way to the creamy Jazz guitar licks that gave “No Ordinary Girl” the distinction it needed. Picking up on the use of the same on the middle eight on “The Murder Of Love.” For a sense of continuity and also as a means of pursuing a John Barry vibe on this song. The tougher guitars and percussion moved in a Bondian direction that worked well on this tale of wronged love. Claudia’s plush vocal was only touched with vibrato from the producer this time with effects as she rarely sings in that fashion!
The breathless longing that Ms. Freytag brought to her spoken-word interjections had the audacity to insert the iconic line “don’t be a fool” at one point in a self-conscious call-back to Propaganda that I’ll admit, had me smiling. As the song shimmered to its coda, we got Ms. Freytag reciting the heartbreaking lyric.
“The Wolves Are Returning” was as timely a song as the band could have ever offered in this day and time as the song examined the cost of turning a blind eye to the previously unthinkable that has since become commonplace. The cinematic intro with Ms. Freytag reciting the words above as if from a public address speaker set the proper paranoid tone. Serrated synth riffs also lent a sense of angst to the song but I loved it when the song went in to the red with the repeat of the lyric “you chose to look away” where I swear that Ms. Freytag actually sung the line the first time! Followed by a shocking skronk sax solo from Terry Edwards that was an unbeatable metaphor for the sense of alarm that this track needed to stoke.
The album closed with something different. “Ribbons Of Steel” was built upon a ambient industrial percussion loop that never rose above a dull throb while piano and string patches built empathy for the spoken word lyric from Susanne Freytag. A litany of loss and loneliness that crossed the line into bittersweet once the hazy noir sax of Edwards took mournful flight. Taking this long, nearly ten minute track into “Bladerunner” soundtrack territory as Susanne exited the song to have Claudia interjecting sighs of longing to break the tension in the second half of the song.
While “A Secret Wish” was down to the quartet of Propaganda abetted with the small army of the ZTT Theam [among others], this album was a tighter affair. Guitar and programming by producer Lipson. Live drums on over half the tracks by Ash [Del Amitri, Squeeze] Soan. Keys by Pete [Pet Shop Boys, Everything But The Girl] Murray. Second guitar by David [Annie Lennox] Rainger. And programming by John [Blancmange, Housemartins] Williams. All of the songs here were penned by the core trio of Brücken, Freytag, and Lipson with Williams and Murray joining variously.
I enjoyed how the brash industrial tech of the Propaganda album was in no way the template for this long-awaited follow up. Instead, it was surprising and rewarding to hear how minor aspects of that early classic were plundered and explored for what they would bring to the game over half a lifetime later. The unexpected Jazz guitar solo from “The Murder Of Love” found a greater expression of vibe here. Not unlike how the Sylvian sophistication of “p:Machinery” or the “The Chase” came to be the strongest legacy coloration of this most delightful new album.
It was fascinating to hear how the ZTT overkill of 1985 had been abandoned for a sleeker, more coherent form. One where simplicity and subtlety achieved an elegance that spoke to the needs of the now. The three xPropaganda musicians are no longer youngsters and this was reflected in the music where the emotions conveyed were more complex while the music was more straightforward. Gratefully, my concluding thoughts on the live “A Secret Place” album this band performed live in 2018 have proved to be the way forward as the band have tilted the group’s compass towards Jazz Island from the almost Prog shoreline they initially launched their ship from. Here’s hoping that they can make a second album that will break the Brücken curse that sees her never making a second album with the same band twice.