Belfast Telegraph

Propaganda's A Secret Wish: 'It's like a time capsule in space, music doesn't die if it still resonates'

33 years on from the release of Propaganda's seminal A Secret Wish the band's Claudia Brucken discusses the album's power and influence

By Joe Neressessian

Once described by a reviewer as "Abba from hell", synthpop foursome Propaganda endured a brief yet tumultuous period of success in the mid-Eighties.

Always in the shadow of their label mates, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, there were line-up changes, rows, delays, an out-of-court settlement and an eventual split.

But before, and during, there was art.

They became the second act signed to Trevor Horn's newly formed label ZTT (the first were Frankie) and offered another dimension to an already emphatic roster with their debut - A Secret Wish.

Formed by industrialist keyboardist Ralf Dorper, artist Andreas Thein and vocalist Susanne Freytag in Dusseldorf in 1982, Horn snapped them up less than a year later. In came Claudia Brucken - a close friend of Freytag's - and classically-trained percussionist Michael Mertens with Thein ousted to create a two-boy, two-girl quartet.

With Horn distracted by Frankie, it took two years for Propaganda to get A Secret Wish recorded and released, supervised by production maestro Stephen Lipson. But when it arrived it was worth the wait. Its seductive, grandiose and crackling opener, Dream Within a Dream, upon which an epic backdrop of trumpet and synthesisers flirt with lyrics from an Edgar Allan Poe poem.

What follows is an alluring torture chamber. Harsh, satanic beats, howls from Freytag and Brucken, a crescendoing grind and a futuristic sound which still lingers hopefully today.

Aged just 18 when she joined Propaganda, Brucken was in the middle of her studies as recording on A Secret Wish began and could not fathom she would still be discussing it more than three decades later.

"I wasn't really thinking about the future, I was aware I was working with Stephen Lipson and these amazing talented musicians but that was it," she says down the phone from her Swiss Cottage home in north west London.

"I really loved the early ZTT sound and to be working with Trevor on my first single was quite special. At that time it was every musician's dream to work with him so to be given that opportunity while I was still at school was extraordinary.

"I knew I had a very very special opportunity at hand but obviously I wasn't thinking about people listening to it in 30 years time, it never occurred to me."

While the legacy of A Secret Wish lives on in the form of a new reissue by BMG, Propaganda lasted for just six months after its initial release. Tensions were strained as Brucken appeared to be given more sway after marrying the label's marketing chief Paul Morley. A contract row ensued and Propaganda ditched ZTT while, in turn, Brucken ditched Propaganda.

Reflecting 33 years later, the singer thinks the band's strange coming together stopped them ever being a true force.

"Suzanne and I are like sisters, we're always on the same page but we never had the feeling the boys loved us," she says.

"They didn't need to love us but we never had the feeling that they kind of were solid enough. We were always worried we were losing our place because there was no band solidarity there.

"We formed really awkwardly... it wasn't someone like U2 where they grew up together and practiced every week... it wasn't like that, the band just became the band."

But the album is still the pinnacle of Brucken's career and she has been trying to organise a live performance of A Secret Wish for a number of years.

First for the record's 25th anniversary in 2010 and then again three years ago in a bid to mark its three decades. Both attempts fell flat but, finally, Brucken will see her dream come to fruition in March when she and Freytag perform the record in full at London's The Garage.

"I've had so many messages over the years from people saying they regret never seeing the album live. The enthusiasm from these really, really loyal followers has infected me and I decided I wanted to do it."

She and Freytag were in "tears of joy" after the first show sold out towards the end of last year (they promptly added a second date).

"I don't want people to forget this record exists," she says. "It delights me to hear people discover it, super-young people. It's about keeping it out there for people to discover."

Brucken describes the album as a sound-photograph, offering a glimpse of the young woman she was in the mid-80s.

"It's like a time capsule out in space," she continues.

"It's transmitting like a satellite, music doesn't die if it still resonates. You throw it out and it's an echo still repeating 30 years later.

"That's why I'm so excited about performing it because I see it as a very dark electro-musical, there's a real story, a narrative."

The motivation to re-release the cult classic fits Brucken's vision. It's part of BMG's Art of The Album series, celebrating the concept of a long record in the age of streaming and immediate satisfaction.

New sleevenotes recall the album's conception, the wider time it was created in and its seminal impact on musicians and electronic pop.

For the young Brucken, the record opened a lot of doors. A solo career on ZTT followed before she embarked on a collaboration project with OMD's Paul Humphreys. She's written with Depeche Mode's Martin Gore, himself a public admirer of A Secret Wish.

But although she still basks in the record's glory, the 54-year-old reveals a slight frustration at failing to ever match the brief heights of Propaganda.

"It's strange, my career should have been the other way around," she ponders. "For my first album to be my most successful... there was no progress or build up it was just bang."

At the mention of the Abba from Hell comparison she breaks into laughter before reasoning that they did not quite enjoy the same levels of success of the Swedish super-troupers.

"We were very punky and had a real rebellious attitude," she continues.

"People were quite scared of us, fans were so intimidated because of the way we looked, the way we portrayed ourselves - it was a fun time."

Propaganda featuring Claudia Brucken and Susanne Freytag perform in London on March 23 and 24. The new deluxe release of A Secret Wish is released via ZTT/BMG on January 26

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