Record Review: xPropaganda’s “The Heart Is Strange” Charms The Savage Breast UK BR [pt 2]

xPropaganda seated
xPropaganda Susanne + Claudia ©2022 Jimmy King

[…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.

xpropaganda don't mess with me

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.

This is a warning
The wolves have returned
Their numbers are growing
They’re on the hunt
Be vigilant

The Wolves Are Returning

“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.


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2 Responses to Record Review: xPropaganda’s “The Heart Is Strange” Charms The Savage Breast UK BR [pt 2]

  1. Logan Sky says:

    I’m glad you’re enamoured with the album and, yes, it has been on constant rotation on my car stereo, since it both dynamic, propulsive and soothing. Here are my thoughts:

    The first track “The Night”, with its frenetic bass and snare and synth washes, is reminiscent of “P:Machinery”. Melancholic trumpet sets the mood for Claudia’s vocals after the 2 minute mark. This track has many elements of classic Propaganda and I can see myself listening frequently to it, especially if there are extended remixes!?

    As you may know, I’m partial to trumpet (Soft Cell “Torch” and also “Summer Herz” with Steven Jones) so “Chasing Utopia” sits well with me. The track and the next “Beauty Is Truth” are quite monotonous, but this was part of the appeal of classic Propaganda, so it makes sense for them to form the backbone of this follow-up album.

    “Only Human” – the best track of 2022 so far. A lovable, well written song and the “Oh Oh” are clever since O and H are first letters of “Only Human”, this is carried over to the artwork for the track. Also check out the great 8m41s remix on the accompanying EP, called “Only Human/Extra Human” featuring more experimentation and poignant spoken vocals..

    “Don’t (You Mess With Me)” – There was the fear that the album would sink into full-on ‘easy listening’ territory, but this pacy track, punky, distorted vocals and spoken German orders from Suzanne create a mid-album high point.

    “No Ordinary Girl” is full of mystery, yearning and suspense.. it could have been a bit more dramatic throughout, more like the end with its orchestral hits and spoken outro from Claudia.

    “The Wolves Are Returning” – This track has great energy and should work well live, but lacked electronics and experimentation. Perhaps too much ‘real drums’ and guitar/sax solos. I’d like to hear some more stripped back remixes of this one, with extra synths / sequencers.

    “Ribbons Of Steel” – This is a real slow grower. Evoking the softness of “Dream Within A Dream”, with muted trumpet interjections, a soothing way to drift out of the album..

    Conclusion: With Steve Lipson at the helm there’s clearly a classic Propaganda DNA at work on many tracks and Terry Edwards’ trumpet parts are also notable for setting that mood. There are a few danger areas where the album starts to shift towards either being monotonous, soft or clean, but tracks generally seem to recover just in time. From my perspective I will be listening frequently over and over again especially to the xTended/xTension remixes. I’m hoping for more of these soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Logan Sky – Yow! That’s practically another blogpost on its own! Color me impressed! And I think you have the paradoxical lure of the album nailed with how it was equally “dynamic, propulsive and soothing!” I didn’t know you were a “trumpet guy.” I’m an “oboe guy” myself, though I appreciate brass of all kinds when done well. Possibly my favorite brass part of all time in a song is Holger Czukay’s single, glorious note on French horn in Eurythmics’ “Belinda!”

      And you mention the extended remix of the fabbo “Only Human” which I still have yet to buy as a DL! That DLX edition of the CD they announced at some later time to all of the other formats completely passed me by and now it’s a small fortune to get that version of the CD. Heck, even the 2xCD with the instrumental version is creeping up in cost! At this point, I’d be happy with any official, glass mastered CD of the album.

      Liked by 1 person

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