“Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?”: an appreciation of Propaganda

Andreas Thein, the co-founder of German synth pop group Propaganda, passed away yesterday, and I wanted to briefly mark his passing. Although they only made one album, A Secret Wish (the dismal post-breakup album 1234 doesn’t count, and neither does the unnecessary remix album Wishful Thinking), Propaganda were a hugely important group to me at a certain point in my musical upbringing. A schoolfriend lent me the “Dr. Mabuse” 12” (the only Propaganda music which has Thein on it) and I was completely bowled over, as much by the Teutonic glamour and sophistication that permeated its every aspect as I was by its juggernaut riffage and stingingly memorable tune. At a time (1984) when the worship of the increasingly hopeless Gary Numan that had accompanied me throughout my entire teenage years was thankfully drawing to a close, Propaganda propagated a thoroughly exciting and, more importantly, credible alternative. Bolstered by the air of intellectual cool emanating from Paul Morley’s text-heavy covers for the ZTT label, Propaganda showed me that synth pop could be as dramatic and challenging in its way as the art rock of Pink Floyd that I was increasingly in thrall to at the time. What’s more, I regarded Propaganda, with some justification, as the hip alternative to their more popwise labelmates Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who were dominating the Top 40 at the time.

Andreas Thein had left the group by the time A Secret Wish came out in 1985, but still I played the record endlessly, hooked on the effervescent singles “Duel” and “P-Machinery” as well as the widescreen epic “Dream Within A Dream”. Even more remarkably, I travelled up to London that year to see Propaganda at the Hammersmith Palais, my first ever live concert in the capital. It wasn’t a very impressive occasion, to tell you the truth. Chronically short of original material, they were only onstage for an hour or so, and wrapped things up with an encore of “Dr. Mabuse”, which they’d already played. Co-founder Ralf Dörper wasn’t even there, but a bunch of session musicians were, who were (understandably) unable to reproduce the glistening perfection of the band’s studio sound. None of this mattered to me, though. I came away from the gig clutching a Propaganda tour programme, badge and T-shirt, the latter of which I wore until it fell apart.

For all intents and purposes, then, the Propaganda story ended with the release of A Secret Wish. I’ve certainly never showed any interest in any of the group members’ subsequent activities. But I’ll always love that album (the 2010 double CD reissue, with its slew of outtakes and remixes, is the one to go for), and especially the savage beauty of “Dr. Mabuse”. Rest in peace, Andreas.

One thought on ““Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?”: an appreciation of Propaganda

  1. It feels slightly ironic that the only time I have got it together myself to post a (more or less) complete blog entry was partly in relation to the 2CD re-issue of a “Secret Wish”. I only saw Propaganda “live” once as part of ZTT “label” show at the Ambassadors Theatre. From what I can remember it also featured in some way or other Andrew Poppy, Art of Noise and possibly Anne Pigalle. So they only played 3/4 songs (i.e. not so many that any repetition could creep in) but were probably the most impressive thing there, in what was a more than disjointed, slightly up its own arse kind of evening. Given what I wrote then, my own view would be that their music hasn’t aged that well (although the majority of that maybe down to the atypical “Trevor Horn/ZTT” production. However at the time all the German “pop/rock” music I had heard was of the Faust/Can/Neu/Kraftwerk axis so the fact that in some ways Propaganda were more “pop” and “glam” made them stand out a bit. Also “Dr Mabuse” will always be a great record to my ears regardless. I did time and again come across various Claudia Brücken “projects” but would agree “A Secret Wish” was very much their moment. RIP.

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