Various Artists – Electrospective (The Remix Album)

There are times when I really enjoy writing these reviews, and others when I wonder why I put myself through this. There’s really only one rule – I have to listen to the entire album in order while I write the review. Earlier this year I reviewed the original Electrospective compilation in its full glory, and now it’s the turn of its companion remix album.

Inevitably a remix album is always going to be a hit or miss affair, with occasional forgotten gems and occasional dross mixed in alongside one another. And so this is – but at worst, this is a journey through the story of the remix, from the early 80s extended versions to the modern reinventions, with everything in between.

Electrospective (The Remix Album) begins its first disc firmly in the 1980s, full of handclaps and drum solos, with the original 12″ versions of Heaven 17‘s Penthouse and PavementTalking Loud and Clear by OMD, and Talk Talk‘s original US mix of It’s My Life. Of these, it is the third which truly shines – perhaps because it’s the best song of this bunch anyway, or perhaps because there really is something special about this mix.

The next bunch are less exciting – Malcolm McLaren‘s Madam Butterfly drags rather over its ten minute duration, and Vicious Pink‘s Cccan’t You See and Grace Jones‘s I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You) do little to pick things up – this is left instead to Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry, although Kevin Saunderson‘s techno take on this has nothing on the original.

By thus stage we’re firmly in the late eighties, an age of big shoulder pads, big string pads, and orchestral hits. Derrick May‘s club mix of Good Life by Inner City is every bit as good as the original, as is François Kevorkian‘s reworking of Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode.

But for something that’s supposed to be a chronicle of “the remix” there are some odd omissions – where’s Shep Pettibone hiding? Where are all the DMC remixes? There’s a lot missing, but in a way this feels more effective as a companion album to Electrospective than a guide to what it means to be a remix.

François Kevorkian turns up again for the next track, the totally brilliant 1990 remix of Yazoo‘s Situation, after which disc one closes with a couple of disappointments – a thoroughly unexciting version of Soul II Soul‘s Back to Life and The Orb‘s rather misguided take on Crystal Clear by The Grid. Although it is very nice to see The Grid on a compilation like this.

By disc two, we are firmly into the mid 1990s. The first track is a brilliant remix which I hadn’t heard before of William Orbit‘s incredible Water from a Vine Leaf, and another surprise follows – the amusingly energetic Cappella Club Mix of Always by Erasure.

The rest of the 1990s are less well represented, with a good but somewhat unexciting Brothers in Rhythm take of Reach by Judy CheeksPaul van Dyk‘s reworking of Passion by Amen! UK, which starts off promisingly but in the long run doesn’t really go anywhere. Then there’s Deep Dish with a pretty poor version of Wrong by Everything But the Girl.

Finally, we work our way towards the end of the decade with unremarkable versions of Around the World by Daft Punk (remixed by Masters at Work), Telex‘s Moskow Diskow remixed by Carl Craig, and the slightly better Simple Minds‘s Love Song.

Before this review turns any more into an extended track listing, we should reflect a little on what we’ve heard. Where the original collection brought together thirty years of electronic hits, this one consists of thirty years of remixed electronic hits. And if that’s the goal, it’s pretty successful. It’s not comprehensive, and neither is it particularly amazing, but it is fun to listen to, and many of the tracks which were chosen are rare and unusual, which is all very worthwhile.

The last few tracks take us firmly into the 21st century, and the inclusion of one of The Human League‘s 2003 remixes (The Sound of the Crowd) is a pleasant surprise, even if the version itself is nothing special. On the other hand, Ewan Pearson‘s Strippedmachine version of Goldfrapp‘s Strict Machine is something incredibly special, and is a very welcome inclusion.

The closing tracks come in the form of Tom Neville‘s rather dull version of Kelis‘s Milkshake and the rather more entertaining Pass Out by Tinie Tempah – apparently he’s never been to Scunthorpe.

Ultimately, Electrospective (The Remix Collection) does what it says on the tin – it’s a fun journey through some selected remixes from the last three decades. Which is more than enough to make it an entirely worthwhile listen.

You can find Electrospective (The Remix Album) at Amazon here.

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.