The German synth-pop group Propaganda was never the stablest group — their lineup mutated even during the course of making this debut album — but they had just about everything else going for them. They turned the sonic extremes of the rock underground, and the language and imagery of the sexual underground, into genuinely mainstream European pop (A Secret Wish includes a cover of Josef K’s “Sorry for Laughing,” and their stage repertoire also featured Throbbing Gristle’s “Discipline”). They had two extraordinary presences in singers Claudia Brücken, the one with the Nico-like purr, and Susanne Freytag, the one who could scream blue murder. They had surprisingly complementary musicians in Ralf Dörper (formerly of industrial band Die Krupps) and classical percussionist Michael Mertens. And they had glorious, panoramic production by Trevor Horn (on their debut single “Dr. Mabuse”) and Stephen Lipson.
A Secret Wish is tuneful and light in places, but it’s also deliriously dramatic and grand: It starts with a nine-minute setting of an Edgar Allan Poe poem, and it sequences “Duel” and “Jewel” — the same song in two radically different versions, one crooned by Brücken and one howled by Freytag — right next to each other. And its centerpiece is the European hit “p:Machinery,” an icy cage of metallic electronics with Brücken’s resigned voice floating up from its center.