Record Companies – ZTT

Few record labels hold the allure that ZTT do. Zang Tumb Tuum (or one of the other variations on the name that they have used from time to time) were formed in 1983 by Trevor Horn, his wife Jill Sinclair, and Paul Morley. Apart from an impressive range of artists, they came to be known for their videos and artwork, and remain influential to this day.

Created to release ABC‘s The Lexicon of Love, the label has gone on to house numerous huge names, including Art of Noise, 808 State, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Roy Orbison, Propaganda, Adamski, Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl, Seal, and Lisa Stansfield.

ZTT is part of the BMG group, so their minimal website is here:

Chart for stowaways – 3 February 2018

These are the week’s top albums:

  1. Sparks – Hippopotamus
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  3. Above & Beyond – Common Ground
  4. Calexico – The Thread That Keeps Us
  5. David Bowie – Legacy
  6. Liza Minnelli – Results
  7. Nightmares On Wax – Shape The Future
  8. Fever Ray – Plunge
  9. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  10. Propaganda – A Secret Wish

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.

Claudia Brücken – Combined

By way of admission, I don’t really know a lot about Claudia Brücken, or actually most of the bands she performed with. I’ve owned for a long time (and adore) the Onetwo album, and I’d heard her collaborations with Andy Bell on his underwhelming solo debut Electric Blue. But it was only at the end of 2010, when the internet went (completely justifiably) totally crazy over her new single Thank You that I really pricked my ears up and paid attention.

Combined is one of a series of ZTT releases highlighting some of their finest acts, and it is totally brilliant, without a shadow of a doubt. Over the course of an hour, it takes you on a 27-year journey through Brücken’s career, via PropagandaActOnetwo, and a whole pile of solo tracks and collaborations.

The album opens with Propaganda‘s quite exceptional Dr. Mabuse (A Paranoid Fantasy) from 1984. It’s an unlikely pop hit, with its nod to the amazing and heavily influential Fritz Lang films, but it is an utterly brilliant track and a great album opener from the era when they were working heavily with Paul Morley out of I Love 1984Duel (1985) is probably better known, although it appears to have just missed out on a place in the UK top 20. Anyway, I think I’d heard it before, and it’s another great track.

By 1987’s Absolutely ImmunePropaganda had gone their separate ways, and Claudia was working with Thomas Leer under the name Act. Unfortunately for me Combined at this stage hits its one relatively low point, with a short string of forgettable hits from the late 80s and early 90s. Absolut[e] (1990) is a brief return to form which seems to slightly channel Kylie‘s PWL era, but the mind-blowing material stays on hold until just after the halfway point.

Onetwo‘s Inside album (2004) is one of the best synthpop albums of the last decade, and so it will no doubt get a full review at some stage in the future. The quite exceptional Martin L. Gore-penned Cloud Nine makes it onto Combined, as does a nicely freshened up version of Sequential.

New track and lead single Thank You is far and away the finest track on the album. Listening through to the album in order it’s not entirely clear to me how Brücken became the epitome of synthpop perfection, but somehow after 20 years of making music that is exactly what she had become.

The last few tracks perhaps go some of the way towards answering that question. Light the Way and her collaboration with Paul Rutherford, a cover of This is Not America are particular highlights, and suggest where the seeds of super-stardom may have first been sown.

For some reason Combined isn’t on iTunes in the US so I can’t link to it, although the live DVD This Happened is available here. comes to the rescue here.