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Claudia Brücken – Absolut[e]

claudiaWe now return to the realm of Apocalypse Pop, a place where it feels like something really terrible is always just around the corner. It’s no coincidence that most of our previous visits to this dark and threatening place have involved Claudia Brücken, a woman who could perform Walking on Sunshine and have you sleeping with the lights on afterwards. Claudia – from her first appearance as part of Propaganda and then as one half of Act – has always had something of the night about her, which is perhaps one of the reasons why she never became quite the superstar she should have. Of course darkness itself is no barrier to success – Two Tribes, after all, spent nine weeks at no.1 – but you could still imagine having Frankie Goes to Hollywood round to your house for tea, though you might wish you’d left the plastic on the sofa. Claudia, to me at least, seemed much scarier, and that made her much more thrilling.

As the new decade came around, Claudia finally became a solo act and signed to Island Records. There must have been a lot of money flying around in the early 1990s, and Island, perhaps mindful that they didn’t really have a big pop star on their roster, seem to have spent quite a portion of it attempting to turn Claudia into one – the CD format of Absolut[e] came in a somewhat lavish gatefold card wallet, while the seven inch arrived in a beautiful blue box with three postcards inside. Neither item would have set you back more than 99 pence upon release, and I suspect that the costs of production would have meant that this single would need to have been a gigantic hit to turn a profit. This marketing spend – on someone who was essentially untested in the UK market – suggests a certain level of confidence in the sales potential for the album. I don’t necessarily think this confidence was misplaced – Love: And a Million Other Things, while not the greatest work Claudia has produced, is – alongside Behaviour by Pet Shop Boys – the perfect pop record for 1990. It’s just that a) 1990 itself had other ideas and b) it eventually didn’t come out until 1991. Not that it mattered – these were the Michael Bolton years.

A bit of a disaster for everyone concerned, then, but let’s remind ourselves of the completely wondrous Absolut[e] and imagine that 1990 was in a fact a bleak, threatening, dystopian wasteland (if it helps just visualise 2016) and not the bland-fest it actually was.

I like a record that gets down to business straight away, don’t you? Absolut[e] emphatically does not mess about, plonking you straight into the action, which then doesn’t let up for the full four minutes and two seconds. Immediately you’re probably thinking, “ooh – a bit disturbing, it’s standard issue Brücken, hooray!” and then you get that lovely repeating “absolutely” line from my favourite backing singer of all time, Claudia Fontaine, and then – what’s this? – Claudia herself is singing about love! Not societal decay or machine enslavement – love! It’s quite a shock on first listen, but Claudia  – being Claudia – manages to make the whole thing sound like more of a threat than anything else (“I want to be by your side / Need your vision and drive / Speak the words you said / To claim the dreams that you had“). I’d run a mile, wouldn’t you?

The production on this, by Pascal Gabriel (who has another Into the Popvoid entry as part of Peach), is some of my favourite work in all of pop – it contains plentiful nods to Claudia’s Propaganda past whilst also barging onto the dancefloor in a lurid clubby top. It’s relentless, insistent, fantastically busy and yet still sterile sounding, and it’s one of those records that (if played loudly with the bass turned up enough) you can feel passing through your bones. It ought to have been a massive hit, and I fully expected it to be one: this would have paved the way for a follow-up hit, Kiss Like Ether (which has instant recognition thanks to its shared DNA with State of Independence), which would have led to a third with Fanatic (The Nail in My Soul), the most Propaganda-ish track on the album, though actually a co-write with her Act partner Thomas Leer.

Yes, it could all have been so different had we just taken the bait with Absolut[e] and sent it marching aggressively into the top ten, where it could have nestled nicely alongside Naked in the Rain by Blue Pearl and elbowed out Mona by Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2. Of course it’s not entirely our fault, as apparently a change of management at Island meant Claudia was no longer a Priority Act by the time the single came out – but they still gave us all those lovely limited edition formats for practically nought pence, and the least we could have done was actually buy them. Once again it’s a case of our most interesting pop stars never quite breaking through in the way they deserve to. I suppose at least that way they get to stay interesting, and in my ways I’d rather have that, wouldn’t you?

130145-bEntered chart: 04/08/90

Chart peak: 71

Weeks on chart: 3

Who could sing this today and have a hit? Well, the obvious choice would be Lady Gaga, but she’s far too authentic these days to tackle this.

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