Vinyl Moments – Electronic

Following last week’s session listening to vinyl from New Order, an obvious next step was to move onto Bernard Sumner‘s side-step with Johnny Marr, Electronic.

IMG_1468Electronic burst into most people’s consciousness in 1989, with the magnificent one-off single Getting Away with It, a collaboration with Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys. Inexplicably (inexcusably) omitted from their debut album on its initial release in the UK, it made it on to the US version, and subsequently the later UK releases too. I chose to listen to the 7″ version, from the sleeveless single which I remember finding in a record shop in Surfers Paradise in Australia some time around 1996.

Side B on both the 7″ and the 12″, which I found somewhere else a lot later, is the pleasant instrumental Lucky Bag. While this may have never changed the world, it definitely has its place in history – if nothing else, as the b-side to Getting Away with It.

Following a couple of years later was Get the Message, noticeably better mastered on its 7″ single. It’s also an even better single than the first – somehow Marr’s guitar work and the electronic backing come together perfectly, and Sumner is on fine form here.

The second side of this disc brings another lovely instrumental. This one, Free Will is short and sweet, and also considerably better than Lucky Bag. Somewhat unusually, this is a particularly great 7″ single.

The third release from the album was the more subdued Feel Every Beat, the back cover of which was included on the image above (I think that’s the back cover, anyway – it’s a little difficult to tell). Side A of the 12″ single features Danny Rampling‘s 12″ mix, but that’s been released elsewhere so I jumped straight to the exclusive dub mix.

Having initially picked the wrong speed to play it at (I guessed 33rpm), I discovered that  Rampling had had a lot of fun mixing in elements from Kraftwerk‘s then-recent album The Mix. As with any good dub version – and there are plenty of bad examples – this takes interesting elements from the original and 12″ mix, and draws them off in some interesting and unusual directions. Electronic never included a lot of remixes on their UK singles, and this one is a particular treat.

There’s just one bonus track on the 12″, Lean to the Inside. I remember not being too impressed by this when I first heard it, but actually it’s pretty good. Another instrumental, not entirely dissimilar to Soviet on the album, it bobs along pleasantly with its pizzicato lead for four minutes or so before this particular journey comes to an end.

Of course, the next single, Disappointed, which sadly I don’t have on vinyl, saw Electronic collaborate again with Pet Shop Boys, which gives us a good link to next week’s vinyl moment, when we’ll be exploring their early days.

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Pet Shop Boys – Disco 2

Twenty years ago this week, Pet Shop Boys released their second remix album Disco 2. The first in the series, released in 1986, was a mid-eighties style remix album, collecting together just six extended and slightly altered versions of singles and b-sides from debut album Please. Similarly, Disco 2 is very much of its era – the mixes are made very much with the dancefloor in mind, and everything is presented in one 45 minute continuous mix by Danny Rampling.

It’s also almost universally despised by fans, and I have to confess that in 1994 I wasn’t too sure either, I think because of the almost total absence of Neil Tennant‘s original vocals on some tracks. But is it really that bad? How does it stack up in 2014?

After a thirty second reprise of Rollo‘s remix of Absolutely Fabulous, things kick off in fine form with the brilliant Extended Nude Mix of I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing, remixed by the Beatmasters. It’s a bumped up, extended version of the single mix, and it’s a great way to start.

Another version of the same track follows, this time DJ Pierre‘s rather lousy Wild Pitch Mix. During this era Pet Shop Boys quite rightly experimented with some rather unexpected remixers and remixes, and in fairness this is probably one of the least bad of a very bad bunch, but it certainly doesn’t do the original song any favours.

Very smoothly and unnoticeably, it mixes into Go West, mixed in similarly unrecognisable fashion by Farley & Heller. It’s an enjoyable enough house mix, but ultimately just feels rather pointless, and then we’re on to one of the longest tracks, and also one of the most dire on the entire collection, the E Smoove 12″ mix of Liberation, which I’ve tackled previously on this blog.

Fortunately, from this point onwards, proceedings start to pick up. David Morales‘s Red Zone mix of So Hard, the oldest track on this collection dating from 1990, is a little too short, but is a very welcome inclusion. Rollo‘s dub of Can you forgive her? is neither the best example of a mix for the song nor the artist, but is still better than much of the first half of the album.

Junior Vasquez‘s Factory Dub of Yesterday, when I was mad, the first of three versions, is nothing special, and then somewhat unpredictably we’re onto one of the best tracks on the entire album, Rollo‘s Our Tribe Tongue-in-Cheek Mix of Absolutely Fabulous, pretty much in full this time. There’s really something rather anthemic about this as you see him flexing his pre-Faithless muscles to make a mix which is a lot better than the somewhat cheesy original.

A none too smooth transition takes us on to the next mix of Yesterday, when I was mad, this time by Coconut 1, which is probably the best of them, and fills in for a couple of minutes until the middle section of the slightly odd but very enjoyable Jam & Spoon mix of the same track.

The real surprise is the last track, the rather saucy Ambient Mix of We all feel better in the dark, mixed by Brothers in Rhythm, and originally hidden away on the limited edition second 12″ of Being boring in 1990. With its gentle guitar work and tentative use of the original vocal, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on here, and makes a great album closer.

Disco 2 has a lot in its favour actually – despite having so few tracks, it’s a very varied collection, and it’s entirely contemporary for 1994. But ultimately a remix album is made for the fans, and that’s where this one falls down. Including so few original vocals was certainly a mistake. Perhaps the original idea, which would have included tracks from Relentless (reviewed here) would have worked better?

But how could it really have been improved? Well, by including some of the really great remixes, for one thing. Jam & Spoon‘s take on Young offender, which seems to now be uniformly accepted as one of PSB’s best remixes ever. The rare Voxigen Mix of I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing by Coconut 1, which never saw a UK release, or there are plenty of others to choose from.

But ultimately, despite entering Pet Shop Boys folklore as their worst release to date, Disco 2 really isn’t that bad. Open your mind a little – this is a remix album after all – and put yourself in the mindset of 1994, and there’s plenty to enjoy.

You can find Disco 2 at all major retailers, such as at Amazon, where you can also read some entertaining alternative reviews.

The Beloved – Blissed Out

What’s the secret of a good remix album? Sometimes they’re overblown or too unfaithful to the originals; sometimes they just feel a bit pointless. Either way, Blissed Out, the sequel to 1990’s breakthrough album Happiness by The Beloved (previously reviewed here), manages to get it completely right.

Most of the remixes here are by the artist themselves, under various pseudonyms, or are faithful enough to the originals to not feel like a total betrayal. It’s even been said by The Beloved‘s singer Jon Marsh that if a new album had appeared soon after, as had originally been planned, it probably would have sounded something like this.

Blissed Out kicks off with the gentle house stylings of the Happy Sexy mix of Up, Up and Away, remixed for a promo-only release in late 1990 by Danny Rampling. And this version is arguably even better than the original, so it’s a great way to open the album. It’s followed by the slightly odd – but also good – Honky Tonk version of their biggest hit Hello, remixed by Jon and Helena Marsh under the name Adam & Eve. Oddest of all, it briefly turns into The Sun Rising half way through, which is unexpected. But while this one clearly isn’t as good as the single version, it’s still a great version, taking it off in a very different direction without losing its soul.

Bill Coleman and Paul Robb‘s Something to Believe in version of Wake Up Soon is another one which is probably better than the original. Some of the samples verge on being a little over the top, but somehow it actually works very well.

I’m not altogether convinced this is so true of the Muffin Mix of single Time After Time, which goes from being a deeply atmospheric original to a slightly naff reggae-styled track. It’s far from bad, but frankly it isn’t great, with its rapping from… um… Leslie Lyrics, who apparently subsequently gave up music to become a sociology lecturer. On the other hand, if you aren’t tapping your foot along after a couple of minutes then you probably have no sense of fun.

The Special K Dub of relatively unremarkable instrumental b-side Pablo is a nice inclusion, although is definitely b-side material, and Norty Cotto and Doc Dougherty‘s 1990 Spago Mix of The Sun Rising is sadly not entirely up to the standard of the original. Their reaction to remixing a hugely evocative and moving track seems to have been mainly to play the original, unchanged and at a low volume level, alongside some incredibly loud house drums. It’s not similar enough to the original to carry the same mood, and nor is it different enough to be particularly interesting.

So it’s up to the new exclusive track It’s Alright Now to bring things back to order. The version on the album, the essential Back to Basics mix, is much more relaxed than the single mix, and is without a doubt one of the best tracks that The Beloved ever recorded. It’s got all the elements of their sound – the laid back music, the understated vocal, and the enormous uplifting crescendo in the middle. It’s absolutely brilliant.

The second half of the LP version closes with the long and very late night Calyx of Isis version of Your Love Takes Me Higher, which essentially includes nothing recognisable from the original version. It’s far from bad, particularly towards the end, when you start to feel as though it might go on forever, but there were plenty of good versions of this track which perhaps might have made it onto here in its place.

It’s difficult to know which version of this album to review – the cassette had twice as many tracks as the LP, and the CD falls somewhere in between. For the purposes of this review we’ll stick to the CD version, which therefore gives us another three tracks to enjoy.

First is Adam & Eve‘s take on Up, Up & Away, the Beautiful Balloon Mix. More house-based than the earlier version, it’s perhaps not quite as good, but neither is there anything wrong with it. This is followed by the brilliantly named What’s All This Then? version of Hello, which features a lot of missing lyrics, making it a slightly strange listen at times, but it’s a great version.

Finally, one of the best of the bunch, Danny Rampling‘s “Love Is…” mix of The Sun Rising. Despite seeming a little over-edited in places, there’s something quite iconic and enormous about it, right from the huge opening pad chords to the slightly house-infused main section. It would be interesting to hear how the lyrics might fit into this context, but even as it comes, it’s one of the best versions of this fantastic track.

So, all in all, despite the odd failing, Blissed Out is a masterclass in how to do a remix album right, and is therefore a worthy companion to the brilliant Happiness.

The original formats of Blissed Out seem to have long since fallen out of print, but you can still find an mp3 version with a few gaps in its tracklisting. See here at Amazon.