Stowaway Heroes – Stephen Hague

If you know anything about pop music from the last three or four decades, you have probably come across Stephen Hague‘s name. Producer of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the DarkPet Shop BoysCommunardsErasureSiouxsie and the Banshees, and many more, his impact on music really is immense.

Here’s one of his biggest hits from the 1980s, and a fantastic video to boot – this is New Order‘s True Faith:

In the 1990s, Hague was to be found producing Electronic‘s DisappointedBlur‘s lovely To the End, and Dubstar‘s brilliant debut Disgraceful. Here’s Stars:

In the 2000s and 2010s, Hague has worked with Afro Celt Sound Systema-haRobbie WilliamsClient, and this astonishing comeback from Claudia Brücken:

Yes, we owe a lot to Stephen Hague, and he’s a very worthy stowaway hero.

Advertisements

Bizarre search engine terms – 2018 edition

I don’t often look at the statistics for this blog, but occasionally it tells me one or two interesting facts. One of the more revealing is the search engine terms that bring people here. These are a selection of the ones that brought you here in the last year or so!

b.e.f. ‎– music for stowaways torrent

No. Just no. I say this every time, but if you want illegal music, this is not the right place to look. Stream, buy second hand, or best, buy the original in some form. Most of B.E.F.‘s debut album is available on the 1981-2011 box set.

“stephen hague” produce

A search which has brought people here on an astonishing nine different occasions. Stephen Hague turns up a lot on this blog, of course, and not always by name. Over a four-decade career, he’s been responsible for producing many of our favourite acts around here, including Orchestral Manoeuvres in the DarkPet Shop BoysNew OrderErasureMarc AlmondElectronicBlurDubstarSarah CracknellAfro Celt Sound Systema-haPeter GabrielClientClaudia Brücken and more. A future stowaway hero for sure.

location of the first brit award in 1981 [and 1981 brits awards]

A lot of people seem to come here now looking for information about the BRIT Awards. As you’ll see from this article, the first BRIT Awards was not in 1981 – there wasn’t even a ceremony that year. The first was in 1977, at Wembley Conference Centre. The first regular ceremony was in 1982, at Grosvenor House.

best kraftwerk album to start with

Everyone will have their own opinion on this, but I gave mine when Kraftwerk appeared on the Beginner’s guide feature three years ago. I’d stand by that judgement – start with Trans Europa Express or The Mix. It’s worth paying extra for the German releases.

vangelis aimless noodling

This might be one of my favourite web searches ever. Honestly, yes, a good chunk of Vangelis‘s music is aimless noodling, and rather amusingly it turns out that I actually used those exact words when I reviewed the Metropolis soundtrack in 2014, although at the time I wasn’t referring to the man himself.

If you want more, here’s the 2017 edition.

Onetwo – Instead

In a parallel universe, Onetwo would have been an enormous electronic supergroup. The duo of Claudia Brücken, formerly of Propaganda, and Paul Humphreys from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and a collaboration with Martin L. Gore of Depeche Mode, really should have been enough alone to guarantee a couple of number one hits. But this is the twenty-first century, and anyone above the age of 25 who who keeps their clothes on is considered “cult”.

So Onetwo‘s brief career began in 2004, with an EP entitled Item, and three years later came the one and only album, Instead. It opens with the glorious two-part The Theory of Everything. A great introduction to the warm synth and simple vocals that characterise the duo, it is however somewhat overshadowed by Sequential, a beautifully evocative piece that must be one of the finest pop songs never to make the charts.

Home (Tonight) continues the theme, and while for the most part this is an album where the tracks work together to form something brilliant, rather than always trying to stand out on their own, there’s plenty to enjoy here too. Similarly Signals, one of just two tracks on here from the original 2004 EP, is another gentle and beautiful song.

The really unexpected moment comes with a cover of Pink Floyd‘s Have a Cigar, which works well and sounds great, but you are left wondering somewhat how on earth it came to be recorded and included here. There’s a certain logic when it mixes into another cover, this time of Cat Power‘s I Don’t Blame You, with Humphreys on lead vocals, a voice barely heard since, but just about recognisable from OMD‘s Souvenir.

Then comes Cloud Nine, definitely the best moment on here – in fact, it’s probably one of the finest songs of the decade, in spite of the opening “shalalalalala” from Brücken. Featuring the writing talents and guitar work of Martin L. Gore, somehow the chords and warm synth sounds come together perfectly. Also worth mentioning is that it features the synth work of friend of this blog Jon Russell, also known as Jonteknik.

If there was any doubt that Onetwo were in fact a synthpop supergroup, Andy McCluskey gets a writing credit on the lovely Anonymous, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a bit of an OMD feel to it, particularly in the chorus. Then Heaven has a bit of an end-of-album feel, even though there’s still plenty to come after it. There’s a pleasant ethereal other-worldliness to it, and while there’s not been anything particularly dark or violent up to this point, it still makes for a welcome change of pace.

It’s always nice to hear singers using their native language, and so it is with Kein Anschluß (which, interestingly, by 2007, was actually a misspelling). I suspect it’s partially intended as a nod to some of the duo’s influences from Brücken’s homeland, with its rhythmic electronic beats and almost Gregorian sounds. It’s easily one of the best songs on here.

After another downtempo moment with The Weakness in Me, you finally have to accept that it’s time for the closing track A Vision in the Sky, a sweet and memorable pop song with a gentle swing pattern and an enormous choral pad backing. This is entirely how this album should end – with something epic and unforgettable. If only it had sold a few more copies.

But ultimately Onetwo‘s downfall was that the seventeen year romantic partnership of Brücken and Humphreys meant an inevitable end to their combined musical career, but the 2006 reformation of the original line-up of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark had already put paid to most of Humphreys’s time commitments. So sadly, we’re left with just one album from Onetwo, completely forgotten but entirely brilliant, Instead.

You can still find Instead at all major retailers.

Albums chart of the year 2013 for stowaways

The albums chart is a little less skewed than the singles. Here’s the top twenty for 2013:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Electric
  2. Depeche Mode – Delta Machine
  3. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
  4. Little Boots – Nocturnes
  5. Marsheaux – Inhale
  6. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric
  7. I Monster – Swarf
  8. Front Line Assembly – Echogenetic
  9. Sparks – Interior Design
  10. Claudia Brücken – The Lost are Found
  11. Kevin Pearce – Pocket Handkerchief Lane
  12. Sparks – Two Hands One Mouth
  13. Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne *
  14. Pet Shop Boys – Elysium **
  15. The Presets – Pacifica ***
  16. Front Line Assembly – AirMech
  17. Karl Bartos – Off the Record
  18. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (III)
  19. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 4
  20. Boris Blank – Avant Garden Vol. 3

* Number 1 in 2012
** Number 2 in 2012
*** Number 34 in 2012

Claudia Brücken – The Lost Are Found

Part of the reason for keeping this blog running for so long is that it has helped me find out about new music, where otherwise it might have just passed me by. Claudia Brücken‘s last album The Lost Are Found is a perfect example of this – I simply never would have known about it if I hadn’t chanced upon it earlier this year, while writing another piece.

Brücken has a slightly bizarre, illustrious career, which we examined in more detail a year or so ago when reviewing the brilliant Combined compilation. On this latest album, she has expanded on the brilliant Thank You by working again with producer/genius Stephen Hague to record an entire album. Curiously, it’s also a cover versions album, and it includes some very odd choices – some good; others not so special – but all interesting.

It opens with The Mysteries of Love, written by David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti for the Blue Velvet soundtrack, and originally performed by Julee Cruise. Without Cruise’s haunting vocal style it’s perhaps not the strongest opener ever, but it’s a pleasant enough track. Next up is Memories of a Color, packed with bizarre pad sounds. The original was Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam‘s debut single in 1992, and on this album it helps to build a pleasant mood which prevails throughout the entire release.

The Day I See You Again was originally performed by Dubstar back in 1995, and curiously although much of that album was produced by Stephen Hague, this track was not. Although not tremendously different from the original, it’s still an extremely good song, and the duo of Brücken and Hague do it justice.

The single Everyone Says “Hi” was a David Bowie original, curiously not one of his oldies, taken instead from his 2002 album Heathen. On this album it makes for a great pop track, and is definitely one of the highlights of the whole collection.

One Summer Dream, written by Jeff Lynne, feels a little out of place in the middle of the album with its acoustic backing. The original closed ELO‘s 1975 album Face the Music, and it’s tempting to wonder if it worked rather better in that context – it still sounds good, but it’s not as beautiful as it perhaps ought to be.

Crime is another Stina Nordenstam song, originally from her 1994 second album And She Closed Her Eyes. As with The Mysteries of Love, it’s nice, but not entirely mindblowing. Perhaps even with a legend of the calibre of Brücken it pays to lower your expectations a little. Then The Road to Happiness was written by Stephen “TinTin” Duffy for The Lilac Time‘s eponymous 1987 debut, and is a surprising highlight of the album. There’s something very special about the uplifting chorus, as it comes together with the almost accordian-flavoured backing.

Next up is Kings Cross, which as I’m sure we all know is a Pet Shop Boys original, a haunting track from their essential 1988 album Actually, also covered a couple of years ago by Tracey Thorn. Curiously, this one was originally produced by Stephen Hague, and so it’s interesting to hear what he does with it this time around. Although the song is just as powerful as ever, I think it perhaps lacks something from the original – but not a lot. It’s definitely one of the highlights of this release as well.

No One to Blame is a new track, written for the album by a duo called The Burt Brothers. It’s a good fit, and the flanged piano backing suits the semi-electronic mood of the album very well. And the Sun Will Shine is a Bee Gees original, from their 1968 album Horizontal. Stripped of their unique vocal style, it’s still a strong song with the typical soaring backing that seems to echo through their back catalogue. It sounds a little inconsequential at times, but it’s a typically good song.

Then the closing track is Whispering Pines, originally performed by The Band on their 1969 eponymous second album. Although it’s a nice enough song, by this stage it’s starting to sound a bit samey – it would be nice to have a bit of Hammond Organ or something to liven things up. It’s closing a good album – but not an amazing one unfortunately.

The Lost Are Found is, ultimately, perhaps a little underwhelming, but that’s only because of the sheer weight of the names behind it. Produced by Stephen Hague, one of the most important producers of electronic music in the 1980s and 1990s. Performed by Claudia Brücken, one of the best-kept secrets of electronic music throughout its history. And written by an astonishing list of songwriters. It really ought to be breathtaking, and it is pretty good, but there just seems to be something lacking. It’s still worth hearing though – the four or five exceptional tracks more than make up for its failings.

You can find The Lost Are Found through all standard music retailers, such as Amazon.