Preview – Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn‘s solo material seems to have had its ups and downs, but when it’s up, it’s definitely up. This week sees her first solo compilation, creatively called Solo: Songs and Collaborations 1982-2015, which includes material from all of her solo projects before, during, and after she joined Ben Watt and became Everything But The Girl. There’s a nice array of collaborations too, most famously including Massive Attack, but also Adam F and The Style Council, among others.

As a taster, here’s a live version of Why Does the Wind?

Everything But The Girl – Adapt or Die – 10 Years of Remixes

The all-too-brief period in the late 1990s when Everything But The Girl stopped being slightly electronic and very jazz-folky, and switched to being very electronic and only slightly jazz-folky, seems a very long time ago now. After just two albums and a handful of singles, it ended properly in 2005 with the compilation Adapt or Die – Ten Years of Remixes.

It opens with a very chilled out version of the 1996 album track Mirrorball, slightly improbably by DJ Jazzy Jeff, who despite a somewhat questionable CV really pulls something rather special out of the bag with his Sole Full remix, full of rippling pianos, soft pads, and gentle beats.

Adam F‘s fantastic single version of Before Today, also from the Walking Wounded album, follows. The original mix combined gentle pads and a beautiful melody with soft drum and bass, and this version does the same, but with even more energy and sparkle. A couple of tracks in, and this collection really hasn’t disappointed at all.

All things date to some degree, and so it is with Missing, which turns up next. Of course, it’s still one of the best dance tunes ever written, but CL McSpadden‘s Unreleased Powerhouse mix should perhaps have remained unreleased, as it takes up the place of Todd Terry‘s wonderful single version. This mix, while still very good, surely steps a little too close to the vacuous house music of the late 1990s to be the only version of Missing on this compilation?

The Knee Deep remix of Corcovado, painstakingly re-edited by Ben Watt to include the original vocal, is pleasant enough, but is a slight disappointment given how exceptional the original b-side was. Like the dreadful Tracey in My Room, it sounds a bit like a mash-up, and works some of the time, but not all of it.

King Britt‘s Scuba mix of 1994’s Rollercoaster is rather better. It may lack some of the more cohesive elements of the Walking Wounded and Temperamental albums, but it’s an entirely pleasant piece of what’s probably best classified as some kind of warm, deep house, but with a huge number of drums. It’s somehow more haunting than the original, and really rather good too.

There are lots of big names on here, but that doesn’t always mean much, as Kenny Dope‘s take on Downhill Racer, originally from Temperamental, while far from bad, is an uninspired piece of work. Similarly Brad Wood‘s Memphis remix of Single does little more than add a house beat to the original, but the stronger song makes it more memorable.

Dave Wallace‘s darker take on Walking Wounded is a pleasant surprise – it’s very different from the original, but it fits well here, in amongst the darker remixes on this collection. It may lack some of the subtleties of the album version, but it’s a good re-imagining nonetheless.

Kevin Yost‘s Everything And A Groove mix of Five Fathoms is rather more dull. The original, a dark and atmospheric piece of deep house, is reduced to a tribal piece with silly vocal samples and very little else. It’s not entirely unpleasant, just a little empty after the preceding piece and considering how good the original is.

The improbably named Jay ‘Sinister’ Sealee turns up next to rework the stunning Lullaby of Clubland. This version is good, but again lacks the power of the original – or indeed some of the other versions on the single. Similarly, the bizarre Pull Timewarp Remix of Temperamental, which has had pretty much everything changed – it’s not bad by any means; you just find yourself wondering slightly what the point might be.

Changes from original songs doesn’t always have to mean something worse than the original – Fabio‘s fantastic remix of Blame is one example of the opposite trend, although perhaps it’s not quite as different as some of the others. It’s a much darker, more primal take than the album version, and works extremely well. It’s edited here (a minute or so has been lopped off) and unusually on this album, that is a bit of a shame.

Somewhat behind schedule, Todd Terry turns up to remix the very much Todd Terry-inspired Wrong, the second single from Walking Wounded, and the one that sounded a little bit like Missing. Again, the Unreleased Freeze Mix isn’t quite as good as some of the versions that came out in 1996, but it retains most of the charm of the original, so can’t really be faulted.

The acoustic version of Driving is a little out of place, but does serve as a worthwhile reminder of Everything But The Girl‘s background. In the place of a third album, Adapt or Die is a great album, and a fantastic way to close the decade or so in which EBTG put the world of electronic music to rights.

You can just about still find Adapt or Die at all major retailers.

Various Artists – Electrospective

The basic way this blog works is that when I’m reviewing an album, I listen to it in full, and while doing so write what I feel about what I’m hearing. How, then, do I tackle a two-and-a-half hour long compilation? I feel the skip button may be seeing some usage on this occasion.

Electrospective is the centrepiece of a recent record company campaign to get us buying mid-price synth-based albums of which I heartily approve. The compilation is a fascinating and wonderful journey, encompassing maybe ten tracks from each of the primary decades of electronic music. But its omissions are also fascinating. Perversely, almost, it contains none of the pioneering sound of Jean Michel Jarre or Kraftwerk. The early 1980s focus rightly on OMD and The Human League, but there’s no sign of Soft Cell or Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The late 1980s largely forego the “indie dance” and trip hop movements in favour of pop and soul. But then, if you were faced with the task of compiling a forty-track journey through the history of electronic music, how would you tackle it?

Electrospective opens, as all definitive electronic compilations should, with Delia Derbyshire‘s 1963 version of Ron Grainer‘s essential Doctor Who theme. Fifty years on, in an age where literally anybody can make music with their portable telecommunications devices, it’s difficult to picture the boffins of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop slaving away generating tape samples and cutting them into exactly the right length to sync and make quite astonishing music. In a sense it’s unsurprising that they didn’t really succeed with the syncing (Derbyshire also revisited the theme in 1967 to create a rather more orderly but definitely less charming version).

Some of the other early tracks are a little odder. Roxy Music‘s Virginia Plain is, I can only assume, here to show some of the early electronic experimentation in which popular acts of the early 1970s were indulging, and it has a few nice Moog sounds in it, but frankly it’s largely tolerable at best. Even Brian Eno, introducing this album to its first taste of ambience, fails to impress particularly with Here Come the Warm Jets (1974).

The 1970s start to look a lot stronger after this, with Tangerine Dream‘s Rubycon and Can‘s brilliant I Want More before launching into another unmissable moment with The Normal‘s Warm Leatherette. The final trio of Cabaret VoltaireTelex and Simple Minds round of 1979 in less compelling fashion, and you should be clear by now that electronics is firmly planted in the world of music.

We then enter the 1980s in typically variable fashion. OMD‘s excellent Messages carries into Ultravox‘s more questionable SleepwalkThe Human League‘s astonishing The Things That Dreams are Made Of is followed by rather more questionable choices from Duran Duran and Heaven 17, and then a distinctly dodgy choice of remix for Yazoo‘s Don’t Go.

The mid-1980s are, as you might expect, rather stronger. Together in Electric Dreams is perhaps a little unnecessary, coming as it does only five tracks after the previous Human League moment, but then West End Girls mixes into Who Needs Live (Like That), and you’re definitely reminded that the eighties weren’t nearly as bad as everyone seems to suggest.

All this is not to say that this album is without its surprises. Nitzer Ebb‘s Control I’m Here is an unexpected pleasure, as is Soul II Soul‘s Back to Life (However Do You Want Me), which ends the 1980s a couple of tracks into the second disc.

The 1990s are, of course, where electronic music comes of age. A whole slew of enormous, exceptional, and very well chosen hits follow from Depeche ModeMobyThe Future Sound of LondonDaft Punk and Adam FMassive Attack turn up, as indeed they should, but here they are represented by the slightly disappointing choice of Inertia Creeps, by no means bad, but a track which surely belongs in the middle of Mezzanine rather than here?

Air‘s wonderful Kelly Watch the Stars and St. Germain‘s Rose Rouge are here to represent the rest of the late 90s French invasion, which is inevitably followed by the experimental indie of Radiohead and The Chemical Brothers.

Finally, our potted history of electronic music has brought us into the 2000s, by which time “electronic” had definitely ceased to be a label for weird experimental noises or extravagant expressionism. It had, in every imaginable way, gone mainstream. In a good way.

Goldfrapp hammer this home beautifully with the essential Strict Machine, and then Dare by Gorillaz leads us through to a string of 21st century floor fillers. Eric Prydz‘s probably Bo Selecta-inspired Proper Education with its Pink Floyd elements leads us into some less interesting tracks from David GuettaDeadmau5, and finally a total abomination by Swedish House Mafia. Not a great ending, admittedly, but a fair assessment of the journey of electronic music over the past half century.

Make no mistake – in terms of meeting its remit of compiling a handful of tracks from every decade of electronic music, this is a great release. But it’s difficult to ignore the many omissions – you can’t help but feel that perhaps a themed or era-specific compilation might tick the boxes a lot more convincingly. In the end, all you get is fleeting glimpses of particular acts and eras. All told though, for all its failings it’s a great listen, and I can’t help but recommend it.

There’s also a companion remix album, which we’ll touch on in a future week. If you’re in the US you can find Electrospective here; if you’re in the UK try here; and if you’re anywhere else then you’ll have to fend for yourself.