Erasure – Pop! Remixed

Ten years ago this week saw the release of Erasure‘s slightly odd remix album/EP Pop! Remixed. Packaged as CDMUTE405, the catalogue styling normally used by Mute Records for singles, it appears that it was originally intended to be released as a four-track EP, a version which did end up being released as a download version. The CD, though, was a ten track album, with an odd mixture of new and old mixes.

It opens with the entirely pointless 2009 Mix of the lovely Always. It is slightly different from the original, with a punchier bass and some improved squawks in the background, but the only difference that the casual listener will spot is the inexplicable omission of an “and” from the first chorus. It was there in the original, and you’ll never quite get used to its absence in this version. But grab yourself a decent pair of headphones, and there’s plenty to enjoy here in its place.

Komputer turn up as the first guest remixer to tackle Victim of Love. They were, obviously and unsurprisingly, big Erasure fans, and so they have changed relatively little here. It would have been a great mix, if it had been released in 1987, and honestly it’s fine for 2009 too – it’s just a little unambitious. Komputer are the people who, most recently, were to be found experimenting with post-Kraftwerk electronics, but there’s little sign of that here.

It’s nice to hear Freedom on here, as Erasure‘s Loveboat era tends to get forgotten somewhat – perhaps justifiably so. Mark Picchiotti has clearly had a lot of fun with this version, turning it into a flamenco mix, with some added guitar work. Part of the problem is the source material, to be honest – Freedom is fine as a song, but it isn’t great. The other part is that Picchiotti isn’t a flamenco guitarist – his forte is overlong, over-repetitive, dull house, and so inevitably this mix is a bit of a mess. Not an unpleasant mess, but it would have been much better to have kept it as a short novelty on the original single rather than a full mix on this compilation.

Drama!, long overlooked by Erasure themselves, gets an overdue remix from Andy Bell himself, aided by DJ Jason Creasey. It’s a bit more contemporary than any of the tracks we’ve heard up to this point, but there’s also little new here. At this point, you could be forgiven for wondering why Erasure bothered with this release at all, but it’s worth remembering that in 2009 they were still in the throes of the creative downturn that had first hit them with the aforementioned Loveboat at the start of the decade. Just three studio albums had appeared in that time (plus Andy Bell‘s first solo effort), and, despite some brighter moments, the quality was never quite up to the standard of the preceding decade.

One-off collaboration Avantara turn up next, for a banging but somewhat dull remix of A Little Respect. The song works well to a huge Euro beat, but there just isn’t a lot of variation between each section here – it sounds a bit like Euro-by-numbers. Then Swedish producers SoundFactory turn up to tweak Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day), and do a slightly better job, although again, there’s little to write home about.

Finally, a mix that actually hits the mark. Soil in the Synth‘s reworking of Ship of Fools is brilliantly glitchy without being challenging to listen to, and spacious in a 1980s way, without being too long. It’s quite brilliant – if there was a reason to buy this release, this surely must be it.

Erasure‘s fascination with Manhattan Clique during this era has always been a bit of a mystery to me – they’re fine, they definitely have good taste, and they know how to jazz up an eighties or nineties classic. They’re also a bit formulaic, to say the least – they occupy a similar space in the world of music as Richard X, except because he’s always doing soundclashes, at least his tracks don’t all sound the same. As “always”, Manhattan Clique‘s take on Always is fine, even if it does sound a little too much like a chipmunk remix at times – but it does sound exactly the same as all their other mixes. Which is fine, if you like that kind of thing.

Next, Electronic Periodic take on Chorus, with a few naff handclaps added in, for some reason. Oddly, the deeply analogue sound of Chorus makes it seem a little more contemporary than most of the tracks here, but the handclaps don’t really give the retro charm that was likely intended, and the weird gaps in the vocals don’t entirely work. Some of the extra sound effects do, though, so this is really a bit of a mixed bag – like this release as a whole.

Finally, closing this release out, Vince Clarke himself turns up to remix Stop! It’s an odd candidate to take on, and I can imagine he probably enjoyed the challenge of trying to turn it into something more contemporary and modern. It just about works – I’ve never been entirely convinced by this song, but if you like it and aren’t too protective about the original, I can imagine you would enjoy this remix. For me, it just about makes the grade. If nothing else, it has a good bouncy beat and bass line.

So Pop! Remixed doesn’t exactly come with the strongest recommendation, but it’s not bad either. Unlike their Club remix EP, which was finally commercially released around the same time, I wouldn’t go out of my way to find a copy, but it’s not something I would be rushing to get rid of

You can still find Pop! Remixed at all major retailers, at a bargain price.

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Retro chart for stowaways – 11 October 2003

Fifteen years ago this week!

  1. Dave Gahan – I Need You
  2. Goldfrapp – Strict Machine
  3. Richard X feat. Kelis – Finest Dreams
  4. Kraftwerk – Tour de France 2003
  5. Madonna – Hollywood
  6. Kosheen – All in My Head
  7. Paul van Dyk – Nothing But You
  8. Delerium feat. Jaël – After All
  9. Ladytron – Blue Jeans
  10. Tomcraft – Loneliness

Richard X – Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1

I’ve very probably mused about the nature of time here before, but the fifteenth anniversary of Richard X‘sPresents His X-Factor Vol. 1 is a pretty strange one to celebrate. He’s still producing artists, but has never bothered to follow this up, but as a collection of great retro soundclashes, it’s really pretty good. What blows my mind now is that some of the things he samples were as old then as the whole album is now.

It opens with the brief Start, in which a voice says “x” a few times, before Liberty X (remember them? They lost The X Factor, or something) turn up to introduce themselves over the introduction to Being Nobody, a soundclash between Ain’t Nobody and The Human League‘s Being Boiled. It’s brilliant in a way that pop seemed to stop being after Richard X‘s brief reign on the charts.

The Human League are probably the omnipresent force on this album, turning up briefly on Rock Jacket alongside a number of other influences and samples. This one’s a filler, though, carrying us along until another guest vocalist turns up.

This is really a who’s who of early 2000s British pop music in some ways, but I had no memory of who Javine was. Apparently she represented the UK at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest, finishing, unsurprisingly, excruciatingly close to the bottom of the table. You Used To is a decent pop song, and who knows, maybe it could have been a huge hit too. Pop music is unpredictable sometimes.

Annie is next, pretty much right at the beginning of her career with the brilliant Just Friends, which is brilliant, and then for IX, a German computer repeatedly spells out Richard X‘s name, which makes a nice little interlude. Then the huge voice of Caron Wheeler, of Soul II Soul fame, turns up for the dull but worthy Lonely.

Deborah Evans-Strickland delivers vocals on the next two tracks, an eccentric posh version of Walk on By, and then Lemon/Lime. Pleasant, but there isn’t a lot of point in these unfortunately. Although some of the lyrics on the second track are pretty funny.

Finest Dreams brings Kelis, and was the third single from this album, peaking at number 8 in the UK. It marries another Human League track The Things That Dreams Are Made Of with The S.O.S. Band‘s 1986 hit The Finest (then fifteen years old), and works very well indeed. In fact, it performed better on the charts than either of the tracks it samples, which is impressive.

The unexpected vocalist on the next track is Tiga, who performs You (Better Let Me Love You X4) Tonight. It’s brilliant, but then most of Tiga‘s work seems to be of an extremely high calibre. It’s just a bit too repetitive though, and as with several of the tracks on here, it drags a little towards the end.

The next track, Mark One, is a moment that anyone who grew up in the 1990s will appreciate, as Mark Goodier turns up to do a very meta in-album advert for this album. It’s a brilliant transition to Sugababes‘ Freak Like Me, sampling Gary Numan and Tubeway Army‘s Are “Friends” Electric? for the backing track. I suspect this might be how the album started out, as Richard X‘s original bootleg version had been a near-hit a couple of years earlier.

Into U is lovely, bringing together a new vocal by Jarvis Cocker with a sample of Hope Sandoval, and some unusually underplayed backing. It makes a great final track, closing out a pretty good album. The actual closing track is the brief End, which is one of the nicer interludes, and then the album is over already.

So in summary, despite a strong cast of extras, Richard X‘s debut may not be the best album ever produced, but it’s pretty good, and it did bring us some of the best pop hits of 2002 and 2003. In short, it’s definitely worth a listen.

You can still find Richard X Presents His X-Factor Vol. 1 on wide release.

The Human League – The Golden Hour of the Future

OK, ready, let’s do it. Celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of its release this week and also approximately the fortieth anniversary of its recording is the compilation of early recordings by The Human LeagueThe Golden Hour of the Future.

It opens with the brilliant single-that-never-was, Dance Like a Star, which sounds exactly as it should – The Human League Mk 1, as they are popularly called, the early lineup, featuring Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh alongside vocalist Phil Oakey, always seemed to be making eccentric pop which was a little rough around the edges. This is exactly that – and it might not quite be release quality, but you can still hear the sheer brilliance that’s still to come.

This compilation was curated by über-fan Richard X when he was pretty much at the height of his fame, and pulls together twenty tracks altogether, a mixture of early material by The Human League, their predecessor group The Future, and one solo track from Phil Oakey.

The second track is from The Future, entitled Looking for the Black Haired Girls, and is a fun experimental semi-instrumental track, and that is then followed by the pleasantly melodic and beatsy 4JG from The Human League. It ends, slightly unpredictably, with a child singing Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Most of the earlier tracks are from The Future though, often very experimental, slightly noisy pieces, hinting perhaps at vocalist Adi Newton‘s later industrial work with Clock DVABlack Clocks is pleasant, but definitely more odd than anything, while Cairo takes a lot of inspiration from the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and sounds every bit as fantastic.

As The Human League showed us long ago on those first two albums, they had always been fascinated with advertising, and so Dominion Advertisement should come as little surprise. It serves as a brief interlude before Dada Dada Duchamp Vortex, a very pleasant drifting piece which along for nearly six minutes before passing over to Daz.

You might find yourself drifting with the music, as Future Religion mixes into Disco Disaster. There’s more than enough variety here to satisfy a full career compilation, but there’s also a huge amount of material. Even among that, a few tracks really stand out – Interface is brilliant, as is Phil Oakey‘s solo work The Circus of Dr. Lao, and then there’s a fun instrumental cover of Reach Out (I’ll Be There) in case things need livening up.

There are some more experimental moments with New Pink FloydOnce Upon a Time in the WestOverkill Disaster Crash, and Year of the Jet Packs, a series which are all good, but only the last one really shines. Pulse Lovers is great too, and then we’re pretty much at the end already, with the short King of Kings, and then, after a lot of odd groaning and screaming, the extremely long Last Man on Earth.

Of course, the thing with Last Man on Earth is that it does, to some extent, help explain what on earth Phil Oakey was going on about on Circus of DeathThe Human League‘s first b-side, released just a year or so after most of these demos would have been recorded. This is definitely history in the making.

What’s surprising is just how good this is as an album. I’ve always loved The Human League Mk 1, but their sound on their albums is always a little raw and uncontrolled, and I suppose I expected their early demos to be even more manic. But they’re not particularly, and I’m very glad this compilation appeared to help add more context to those early years.

The CD has fallen out of print again, but you can still find The Golden Hour of the Future through your favourite digital retailers.

Music for the Masses 38 – 30 April 2005

The Live Bit, launched only the preceding week as a new feature, quickly turned out to be way too much trouble and was downsized to just one track, but the Electromix would continue for the rest of the show’s run, this week starring Leeds’s own Utah Saints as the centrepiece.

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Show 38: Sat 30 Apr 2005, from 6:00pm-8:00pm

Broadcast on LSR FM, online only. Artist of the week: Apollo 440.

  • Moloko – The Time is Now
  • System F – Insolation
  • Faithless feat. Boy George – Why Go?
  • Röyksopp – Remind Me (Someone Else’s Remix)
  • Apollo 440 – Astral America
  • Mylo – In My Arms (Sharam Jey Remix)
  • The Clarke & Ware Experiment – Communication (from Music for Multiple Dimensions)
  • New Order feat. Ana Matronic – Jetstream (Richard X Remix)
  • LCD Soundsystem – Disco Infiltrator
  • Heaven 17 – Being Boiled (Live) [The Live Bit]
  • Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show
  • Apollo 440 – Pain in Any Language
  • Moby – I Like It
  • M83 – Teen Angst (Montag Mix)
  • Lemon Jelly – Make Things Right
  • The Flirts – Passion
  • Apollo 440 – Heart Go Boom
  • Ladytron – Blue Jeans [Electromix]
  • Utah Saints – Love Song [Electromix]
  • Piney Gir – Girl [Electromix]
  • Jam & Spoon feat. Rea – Be Angeled

The Electromix feature from this show still exists, and will be included on a future Playlist for stowaways.

Erasure – The Violet Flame

Erasure‘s renaissance seems to be reaching a head – after years in the wilderness, they reappeared with the great but over-processed Tomorrow’s World then a lovely Christmas album with Snow Globe. This time, they’re working with Richard X of all people!

The opening track is the eccentric but great Dead of Night. Its chorus falls a little flat by Erasure standards – think back to all those catchy songs you saw them performing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But it’s still good, and the combination of the synth duo and the producer with his head in the 80s is a very strong one.

The lead single Elevation is next, another great piece of production with a slightly disappointing chorus. It would be difficult to really complain since this is Erasure at their best for a couple of decades – ultimately it’s good, but it’s not Always. Neither is second single Reason, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. The verse could easily be lifted from a song on I Say I Say I Say or Cowboy, but again the chorus doesn’t quite seem to grab you in the way that they used to.

Somehow The Violet Flame does this to you – you can’t stop yourself comparing it against their earlier work, however unfair that might be. Promises is similar – if you had never heard of them before, you would probably be able to enjoy it too, but somehow the return to their finest songwriting form and working with a distinctly retro producer makes you think you’re still stuck twenty or thirty years ago.

Be the One is easier to enjoy in its own right, but it’s Sacred where things really start to explode. This really is Erasure at their finest – a great lyric, a fantastic chorus, and some very catchy synth lines. This was the third single, at a time when most people can’t be bothered releasing anywhere near that many, and while they may only be doing it for the fans, it’s still a very notable release.

Under the Wave takes us right back to the start of Vince Clarke‘s career, with a lovely plinky-plonk synth line. Again, the verse is brilliant, but the chorus doesn’t quite manage to capitalise on that, which does appear to be a bit of a theme on this release.

Even towards the end of the album, surprises are lurking. Smoke and Mirrors is an enormous synth piece, and unusually for this album the chorus is entirely brilliant. It’s probably not a good idea to think too hard about the lyrical content, but it’s great nonetheless. The same is true for Paradise – actually, it seems many of the best songs are hidden towards the end of The Violet Flame.

This is particularly true for the final track, the superlative Stayed a Little Late Tonight. When Andy Bell opens with “I just wanted everything to be perfect,” you can’t help but think this might be more than just a one-off lyric – perhaps he really is referring to the whole album. Really, everything has come together extremely well this time around.

Thirty years on, The Violet Flame proves that Erasure definitely still have greatness in them – it’s a shame they’ll never see commercial success again, because future generations of music listeners deserve to know about this. But for those of us who still remember them, this album is extremely rewarding.

There are various versions of The Violet Flame in circulation, but the one you want is most likely the one with a live Greatest Hits CD.