In an introductory essay on the thinking behind the two strains of releases that the label ZTT put out in the 80s and 90s, the journalist and co-founder of the label Paul Morley explains his idea of dividing their output into Action and Incidental series aimed, on the one hand, to deliver pop “as monumental as it had ever been” that reflected “apart from the basic, almost ruthless chasing of a hit, some sense of existential endeavour”.
And on the other, work that was “not so pop, not so obvious, not so funded, and not necessarily dominated by the big pop-like abstract ambitionism” of his label partner, the super-producer Trevor Horn.
He concedes that many of the acts they signed to label “tore their copies [of his manifesto] up and pursued their own agenda” but that was half the fun of ZTT – a label full of grand schemes and quirky outcomes.
As ZTT celebrates its 30th anniversary, these three releases include its hits and occasional misses, most which remain nonetheless musically fascinating in spite of the fact they barely dented the charts.
Anne Pigalle’s Hé Stranger, for example, from the double-CD The Organisation of Pop, is a gloriously off-kilter slice of French cabaret as enticing as Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s thunderously overblown Two Tribes.
With Seal and Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm, Horn took pop production to a new level of luxurious sophistication; 808 State twisted dance music into strange shapes; Art of Noise’s Moments in Love still sounds as heart-stoppingly romantic as ever.
Then there’s Propaganda, whose singles Dr Mabuse and Duel added German Expressionism – and the glorious voice of Claudia Brucken – to 80s synth pop.
The Frankie collection shows ZTT at its commercial peak, bold, frisky and unafraid to bait the censors. It’s here augmented by videos, clips from Top of the Pops and the long-forgotten Oxford Road Show.
Then there’s the third in series of 12” remix albums which exhumes, amongst other things, Sigue Sigue Sputnick’s endearingly daft Love Missile F1-11, Stephen Duffy’s long lost duet with Sandii on Something Special and the Naked Civil Servant mix of Snobbery and Decay by Act, Claudia Brucken and Thomas Leer’s short-lived and criminally overlooked late 80s collaboration.
Here’s to the next 30 years of pop exotica.