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The Lost are Found by Claudia Brücken, produced by Stephen Hague. An acclaimed record producer thinks of some songs that mean something to him, and he invites one of his favourite singers to sing them, and she was thinking of some songs that mean something to her, and looking for a producer to bring them to life. Sounds simple, and after a fact, after all the considering, gathering, discussion, performing, recording, mixing, mastering and completing, it is – the radiant and irresistible simplicity that can emerge from general, practical complexity.
The songs come from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, from when the producer was a young fan of music, to when he was himself producing music, and they create a diagram of the kind of music that appeals to him, melancholy music that somehow makes you happy, sad songs that make you feel hope, that need performing with a certain bitter sweet subtlety to bring out that sense of being lost, and finding yourself, of feeling detached from life, but deeply connected to its rhythms, and inevitabilities. Songs that need a structure, a sound, and then a voice, bringing to the music a sense of unique, personal history. Some of the songs are new to the singer, some are the ones she wanted to sing, the kind of music that appeals to her, and something starts to happen as they work together, something that is a celebration of the sad song, and how uplifting it can be to hear a blue, heartbroken song, in a certain setting, serious, but spellbinding.
The record producer and the singer: traditionally, historically, the partnership that is at the very heart of all great pop music, establishing the arrangement, the sound, the balance, the mobile presence of the music, and then merging that with the voice, the direct human touch, the performance, the ultimate invitation into a world that the producer creates out of all those wires and memories, all the software, experience and sensitivity. What a pop song sounds like, and how the story is told, becomes one way of breaking down the history of pop. Studio sound, setting the stage for a singer to express how they feel in a way that makes the listener respond with their own feelings.
The record producer is Stephen Hague, whose first full album production was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Crush in 1985, and who then worked with important and influential acts such as Public Image Ltd, Malcolm McLaren, New Order, Peter Gabriel, Pet Shop Boys, Communards, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Erasure, early Blur and Robbie Robertson. Glorious, unpredictably moving hits he produced included ‘Regret’, ‘True Faith’ and ‘World in Motion’ by New Order, ‘West End Girls’ and ‘Suburbia’ with the Pet Shop Boys, ‘A Little Respect’ from Erasure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘Kiss Them For Me’ – such hits, and the lesser known music he produced, prove what a master he is at defining how a great pop song establishes a definite mood, captures mood swing, deftly reflects emotional turbulence, and inside a few minutes tells a number of stories at once, some stories more obvious than others.
The singer is Claudia Brücken, who whether as a member of Propaganda, Act or Onetwo or solo, has created her own particular history of collaborations with key record producers searching for their own special blend of sound and voice, rhythm and expression, recording and performance. She has worked with Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson as the Propaganda and Act singer, with Pascal Gabriel on her own songs, with Paul Humphreys of OMD as one half of Onetwo, and along the way with composers and musicians who approached the writing of songs very much as record producers – Thomas Leer, Andrew Poppy, Heaven 17 and Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore. Along the way, in different settings with different producers, outside her own songs, covering songs such as the Velvet Underground’s ‘Femme Fatale’, Josef K’s ‘Sorry For Laughing’, Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, Kate Bush’s ‘Running up That Hill’ and Frank Black’s ‘White Noise Maker’, she has created her own history of pop music, favouring vivid songs that imaginatively express tension, drama, and a certain disorientating sense that all is not necessarily as it seems, where songs connect reality with dream.
In 2004, Claudia released an album of (mostly) other people’s songs with composer and pianist Andrew Poppy, Another Language. Songs by Radiohead, David Bowie, Elvis Costello and Marianne Faithful were stripped to the glowing core, and Claudia’s usual meticulous electronics were replaced with volatile, virtual acoustic settings that combined very little instrumentation with a lot of space and implication. To some extent, the album she has made singing with Stephen Hague’s arrangements and atmospheres exists as a form of follow up to Another Language, certainly in the way it avoids the electronic production that might be expected from a collaboration between the producer of New Order and Pet Shop Boys and the singer for Propaganda and Onetwo. It’s also a relative follow up to Another Language in the way that songs taken from different sources settle together in a new world where they seem to belong together. In another way, it’s her first solo album for 20 years, a follow up to her Love: and a Million Other Things, released on Island Records in 1991, and it inherits some of that albums dark, wounded themes and moods.
The album also exists as a kind of follow up for Stephen Hague, considering that producers work for different acts, but are also following their own particular journey, and leaving something of themselves on each of the records they make. It’s not necessarily a follow up to any particular album, but in the selection of some of the songs, some of which Hague has produced before, it brings with it the work Stephen has done with such as Pet Shop Boys, Dubstar and Robbie Robertson, and an acknowledgement that sometimes a song you work on becomes an acclaimed masterpiece, and other times an equally compelling song can drift into the shadows and need finding, and even rescuing and recasting. This album becomes, amongst other things, a collection of songs about loss and loneliness, where uncertainty, fear and despair is transformed into creative energy, where the songs themselves exist in lonely places, even those by David Bowie, the Bee Gees and Electric Light Orchestra. They are not the obvious songs from those writers, and this forms part of the albums intention, that the greatest pop songs, however familiar they end up becoming, are great because they go out of their way to avoid the obvious. Another of the albums intentions – to create a list of songs for Claudia to sing that make sense of someone with her experience, and perception, so that songs written by men, or women of a different age, from different parts of the world, with different approaches, made sense being sung by someone else, as though they were a reflection of her own views and voice, and a genuine, revealing part of her own story.
Hague and Brücken’s final choice of songs for this album consist of unfairly obscure tracks by less consistently well-known acts – Stephen Duffy’s Lilac Time, Swedish singer/songwriter and David Sylvian collaborator Stina Nordenstam, Dubstar – and less well known songs by those less than obscure acts Bowie, Bee Gees and ELO. Songs by Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti/David Lynch and Pet Shop Boys exist in some strange transient zone between those two poles, and the opening ghost song originally sung by Julee Cruise for the sublimely unnerving Blue Velvet soundtrack now begins a collection of songs that concludes with an almost choral song from the second Band album, written by Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson, that now seems to exist on the same rattled, mournful Lynchian street in the same mysterious town populated by the same mysterious people. Where are we? We are where the songs say we are.
It all started with Hague wanting to cover a particularly wistful song by the Electric Light Orchestra, ‘One Summer Dream’, the B-side of the more recognised ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ and the final track of their 5th album from 1975, Face the Music, where, in a few spare, evocative lines, there is pain, and tears, and mountains, and sea, and, of course, love, that is beyond reach, and dreams, that are beyond words. This song, once sung by Claudia, led to thoughts about other songs that might unexpectedly sit around it, and the pair decided that this meant songs as much by Lowe and Tennant, Lynch and Badalamenti, the reclusive S.Nordenstam and the less reclusive S.Duffy as by shape shifting, dream singing Bowie, the searching Manuel and Robertson and the younger, stranger Gibbs. In a way, the whole album flowed from the water, breeze, melancholy and distant hope of ELO’s ‘One Summer Dream’. The songs, the first that was finished, didn’t create a fixed template, but it laid the tracks, opened the road and cleared the way for a portfolio of songs that now exist in one timeless, centreless place as though it was meant to be that way all along.
In the opening ‘Mysteries of Love’, a wind blows, in the closing ‘Whispering Pines’, the waves rush in, and in between groups and singers never before put together in one place help Hague and Brücken tell a story that is both at once about song, and about loneliness, rejection and isolation – a story about feeling lost and alone in a crowded world, exposed to the elements, and how songs can make you feel completely separate from everyone, and at the same time connected to others. A track from 1986 opens an album containing songs written between the 60s and the 90s released in 2012 that finishes with a track from 1969, and yet the songs all exist in no time at all, where memories, and feelings, and sadness, and new encounters are not timed or dated, but simply exist in the moment that all great songs inhabit.
Once the songs had been chosen, sung and recorded, and put in the right order, moving from the wind blowing, to the waves rolling in, via all the dreams, longing and memories, the rain, the setting sun and stillness, so that it became a complete album, a whole performance, a world of its own, then there was the title, to summarise the songs and the mood, the recovering and refining of thoughts and feelings, and the fact that Claudia Brücken was produced by Stephen Hague. Not an everyday group, or a traditional double act, or even a singer singing songs as though they were the sole controller of events, as if such songs just pop out of nowhere, but a reflection of how it has been all along – that great albums are often a relationship between the record producer and the singer. Between the structuring, organising and integration of the sound, and the voice, singing songs, written by the singer, or by others, chosen by the singer and the producer, in their own state of harmony, that take you inside the mind, and outside yourself, into a different world where music is the map that helps you find your way.