Back in the glorious golden days of pop, the mid 1980’s, ZTT Records released some of the biggest and most exciting tunes around, with Frankie Goes To Hollywood effectively ruling the charts (and wardrobes...who didn’t have a Frankie Says...t-shirt eh?) for a year or so. Whilst Holly Johnson and co were busily corrupting the nation’s youth with Relax however another ZTT band were producing some of the decade’s most intriguing songs. That band was Propaganda and the singles, Duel and Dr Mabuse, still sound remarkably fresh nearly 30 years on. In the intervening three decades or so the band’s lead singer, Claudia Brücken, has released the odd album here and there and guested on a handful of tracks but now she’s well and truly back with a fascinating solo release, The Lost Are Found, a series of cover versions of hidden gems from everyone from Bowie to The Band. Live shows from Claudia over the years have been rare and tours...well...I can’t remember one...so tonight was a pretty big deal.
Dressed in a simple black suit, heels and diamond necklace and joined by a band that includes partner Paul Humphreys (one half of synthpop kings OMD) she still looks a million Deutschmarks. It’s the voice that really grabs you though and opening number Kiss Like Ether (one of the singles from her own hidden gem, the 1991 album Love: And A Million Other Things) is the perfect showcase. Sounding upbeat and poppy one second then dark and seductive the next she’s got an impressive vocal range, more importantly she knows how to use it adding light and shade just where it’s needed. Kiss Like Ether had kind of faded from my memory a little but it’s a truly great track with hints of Donna Summer’s classic State of Independence and Siouxsie’s Kiss Them For Me in there. Tonight’s backing vocalist David Watson did a particularly fine job of accompanying her too.
It was clear that the lovely Ms Brücken has taken some time with the setlist, sensibly mixing in the older more familiar tunes with the newer stuff and setting off the more chilled out tracks with the dancier numbers. Introduced as “A song from my past” Dr Mabuse made an early appearance and it still sounds groundbreaking, a unique mix of the gothic and the dancefloor, a soundtrack for nightmares and nightclubs. Awesome. Not sure that the added guitar worked so well on this one tonight, perhaps being so familiar with the more sparse original was a factor? A minor quibble though.
Cloud Nine (a co-write with Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore) could almost be a Bond theme, where’s this track been hiding eh? Love it. A gloriously, fabulously, brilliantly camp Snobbery and Decay made a strong pitch for song of the night, with Claudia and David trading lines like Garbo (Greta) and Johnson (Holly).
Of course tonight wasn’t just about revisiting past glories, there’s a new record out and a languid reworking of ELO’s One Summer Dream showed Claudia’s more chillaxed (as the kids used to say) side. It was a classy and suitably dreamy interlude, achieving that wonderfully filmic quality that made you temporarily forget the sub zero temperatures waiting for you outside (yes, it's still ruddy freezing)...
On top of ELO there was another Brummie link thanks to Claudia’s cover of The Lilac Time’s The Road To Happiness, a country tinged track with a vaguely 60s feel that’s undoubtedly one of the new album’s highlights. Again the more subtle nature of the material showed a different side to Claudia’s vocal ability wrapping you up in a mellow cocoon of sound. Heavenly stuff. An orchestral (manoeuvres in the dark) embellished and very timely cover of man of the moment, David Bowie’s Everyone Says “Hi”, neatly capped off the main set.
Encore? Of course. As Claudia herself acknowledged she couldn’t play a gig without performing Duel and for 5 minutes a fair portion of the mainly forty something audience went a little weak at the knees (come on now, I’m not the only one who had a Claudia crush after watching that video). If anyone mocks music from the 80s point them in the direction of this tune, sure it sounds of its time but equally there’s stuff in there that makes it seem oddly timeless. Add those slightly disturbing lyrics (the slow lingering death of a relationship?) and Claudia’s dance dominatrix delivery and you’ve got one of the smartest pop songs in history.
Judging by the eager swarm of middle age fanboys around her at the end of the show Claudia’s allure remains as strong as ever but she’s ripe for discovery by a whole new generation of fans raised on those who’ve followed in her wake, step forward everyone from Goldfrapp to Lady Gaga (I’d be frankly amazed if Ms Germanotta didn’t have Duel on her iPod). Simply one of the most distinctive (and underrated) voices in pop. Now that's Propaganda you can all believe in...
The Lost Are Found tour continues:
Fri 15th – Manchester – Academy 3
Sat 16th – London – Borderline
Sun 17th – Brighton – Concorde