ZTT produce a comprehensive guide, should you need it, to long lost, or indeed never discovered synth-poppers Act, and come up with something that is often genuinely affecting and occasionally glorious.
One of the blink and you’ll miss it bands from the time of synth-pop revolution, Act flashed and burnt out, pretty much before anyone noticed. The duo, Thomas Leer and ex-propaganda singer Claudia Brücken, convened after Propaganda fell apart over their contract with label ZTT, the band and Brücken (then Mrs Paul Morley, ZTT co-founder) fought their opposite corners.
That partnership may only have lasted one album, 1988’s Laughter, Tears and Rage which included the single Snobbery and Decay which scraped into the charts (at a lowly no.60) but its got the full Paul Morley treatment for this new reassessment of the band – i.e. not really that compact at all, featuring 20 tracks taken from the albums various formats (as was ZTT’s want, the different formats had different tracks) plus album outtake Body Electric on one CD and another 13 remixes and rarities on another.
There’s nothing particularly unconventional about Act’s sound, which inhabits this rather kitsch, but engaging synth-pop, but its an album full of slightly leftfield, but usually engaging synth-pop. Opener Gestures gets things off on solid footing, but follow on The Third Planet really shows what the duo were capable of, Brücken’s theatrical delivery over the top of bubbling synth lines at least comparible of what was coming out of Sheffield and Basildon at the time, sugared by head-nodding Vince Clark-a-like accompaniments with delicious chiming melody fragments.
Elsewhere, the singles shine – the sparkling Absolutely Immune is as good a synth pop record as you’ll here, both parties at the top of their game – perfect pop melodies, sparkling arrangements and vocal delivery (from both) that just creeps up and hits you in the ‘I must listen to this an awful lot’ glands (are there such things?) while Snobbery and Decay is one of the great forgotten (or is it undiscovered) singles of the era.
It’s not all of that quality though, with Certified meandering, the slightly mystifying Under the nights of Germany and a wayward cover of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbits not really coming off. Don’t let that put you off, with three stonking mixes of Snobbery and Decay on the second cd, and moments elsewhere like the brilliant Laughter, Bloodrush and a brilliantly cabaret reading of The Smiths ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ sufficient to make this well worth the expense.
The only question that remains is – how come they weren’t a whole lot bigger?
Love and Hate – A compact introduction to Act, is out now on Salvo / ZTT.