xPropaganda is a synth-pop duo consisting of German vocalists Susanne Freytag and Claudia Brücken. Formerly known as Propaganda, Freytag and Brücken–alongside percussionist Michael Mertens, keyboardist Ralf Dorper, and producer Stephen Lipson (who also produced & mixed The Heart Is Strange)--released their UK top-30 debut album A Secret Wish on ZTT Records in 1985. Best remembered for the hit singles “Duel” and “Dr. Mabuse,” the making of A Secret Wish was overseen by ZTT label head and former Yes member Trevor Horn.
Despite the album’s success, a follow-up was never made: contractual disputes and internal dysfunction led to the band’s dissolution just two years later, though there were sporadic reunion concerts over the next several decades.
Having performed live under the name xPropaganda since 2018, The Heart Is Strange represents the first new studio collaboration between Brücken, Freytag and Lipson since the making of A Secret Wish in the mid-80s. Fortunately, the album doesn’t disappoint. The Heart Is Strange retains Propaganda’s unique synth-pop/new-wave sound (complete with passages of German spoken word) while also updating it for the 21st century.
The Blu-Ray Pure Audio disc from SuperDeluxeEdition.com features three audio options, all at 48-khz/24-bit resolution: stereo, 5.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos. The Dolby Atmos mix is also available to stream on Apple Music and Tidal.
Though I typically purchase these discs solely for the surround sound mixes (in fact, Tears For Fears’ The Tipping Point SDE Blu-Ray from earlier this year didn’t even include a dedicated stereo mix), I must concede that the stereo version of this album is superb. You can play this disc very loud without fatigue setting in, and the low-end response is among the best I’ve ever heard (the programming kick drum sound in “Beauty Is Truth” - wow!) From the sweet spot, it does seem to provide an almost-holographic 3D presentation.
The 5.1 surround mix is even better, with the rhythm section and lead vocal nailed down to the front channels while synthesizers, backing vocals, brass, and the occasional guitar appear in the rears. The call-and-response vocals in “Beauty Is Truth” alternate between the front and rear speakers, and the sax solo in “The Wolves Are Returning” frenetically swirls around the room. Curiously enough, this is actually a quadraphonic mix in all but name: the center speaker sees minimal use for the duration of the album.
This disc is a worthwhile purchase just for the high-resolution stereo & 5.1 mixes, but the Dolby Atmos mix will likely become my preferred listening option going forward. The ground-level soundstage arrangement is mostly carried over from the 5.1 mix (drums, bass, and the lead vocal are still fixed to the front speakers), but the synthesizers, guitar, and backing vocals are now spread from the rears up into the height speakers. The resultant effect is a full 360-degree dome of sound around the sweet spot, with all speakers in my 5.1.4 setup engaged to great effect. There’s a particularly great moment midway through “Chasing Utopia” where different passages of spoken word cascade across the four height quadrants.
Fortunately, this Blu-Ray disc is still available from SDE’s online shop. If you enjoy 1980s-era synth-pop and immersive audio, it’s definitely worth a listen.