This review refers to the original **Laughter, Tears & Rage** album as well as to the 3 CD-boxset recently released by ZTT Records. Sorry for the cliche, but this is really an underrated gem from an otherwise musically mind-destroying decade. Act was basically a duet: Claudia Brucken, from Propaganda, and experimentalist Thomas Leer made this one-shot attempt in 1987-1988, a record supposed to shake the pop industry and audiences up, but which shook only a few lucky listeners, not due to a lack of talent, but rather to a problem of that-was-not-what-people-were-ready-to-hear-at-the-time. In short: too much brain.
Let's talk of the music: it ranges from fairly good to excellent, which, for a pop/dance album, is to be noticed. Remains of Propaganda weigh heavily on songs like "Under the nights of Germany", "Bloodrush" and "A friendly warning", which are not, in my opinion, really representative of the band's project. Act was a more straightforward band than Propaganda. Songs like "Absolutely immune" (2nd single, issued in 1988), "Gestures", "Chance", "Laughter", with their sophisticated groove, are more down-to-earth and are probably more ambitious in the sense that they try to melt different musical influences (new age, funk and rock). Thus, despite some unavoidable fillers, the musical texture of the album is rich, the harmonies inspired, the interpretation first-class, and - most important of all - the feeling is there.
The first 13 tracks alone justify the purchase of the album. But the 14th is a real, real masterpiece, a work of genius which clearly stands out from the rest: its title is "Snobbery and Decay" and, to any true MUSIC fan, it MUST be a kick in the ass. This song was issued as a single in 1987 and was a total commercial flop, but it contains everything the song of your dreams has: 1/ an implacable rhythm 2/ 2 great voices 3/ tense lyrics 4/ a chorus whch raises the roof 5/ a cool, powerful sound 6/ a tremendous sax solo 7/ a strong emotional content. 15 years later, I still find it so damn good than almost any other song I play right after sounds bland. This song, depicting "the lifestyles of the rich and famous" (in fact, the yuppies of the Thatcher era) is some sort of manifesto, the musical war cry of two artists who were at the top of their creativity, who had perfectly integrated the musical and the sociological trends of their time and who had sufficient know-how to condensate them into a five minutes song. I personally don't expect more from a pop song or from music in general.
The 2nd CD of the boxset contains the (in)famous 1988 remixes, the 3rd more recent ones. Both contain unreleased tracks, some of them not bad at all ("Body electric", "White rabbit" and "Winner 88") if not at the same level as the rest. The first CD also contains minimalist piano versions of "Laughter", "I can't escape from you" and "Snobbery and decay" which are worth the ride.
Their was too much substance and too much taste in this record for the world of 1988. For those who missed the boat then, here's another chance: don't miss it, or **Laughter, tears and rage** will disappear from the shelves as quick as the 1988 edition - and for good this time.