Friday, June 1, 2012

Re-Work It: Five Remixes That Don't Suck

As a general rule, unless it involves a fierce ruling diva from the '90s wailing over a kick-ass beat, I can probably live without the remix of any given song. That goes double for extended mixes, most alternate takes and artists' brand new versions of their golden oldies that are better left alone. It's the main reason why I nearly wrote off Kate Bush last year when she ruthlessly marred two of my favorite albums by her -- 1989's The Sensual World and 1993's The Red Shoes -- with her Director's Cut, 11 reworkings of songs from those albums that should have remained on the director's cutting-room floor.

I still haven't gone anywhere near New Blood, last year's classical experiment by Bush's sometimes '80s duet partner, Peter Gabriel, that featured orchestral reworkings of key songs from his solo career (a tactic previously employed by Sting on 2010's Symphonicities). "Say it isn't So," I thought when I first read about the project! If I want to hear "This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" or "That Voice Again," two of my two favorite So songs, I'll listen to them the way God -- and Peter himself -- intended me to... back in 1986.

In other words, don't disturb the grooves -- not "Sledgehammer" (he didn't), not "Big Time" (again, spared), not "In Your Eyes" (not so lucky), and certainly not the Gabriel/Bush duet "Don't Give Up" (ditto), so perfectly delivered the first time around. (I think I'll pass on this fall's Peter Gabriel tour celebrating So's 25th anniversary, just in case he decides to mess with near-perfection again.)

That's not to say that it doesn't occasionally pay off sonically to tinker with greatness -- or not-so-greatness. The '90s were filled with fantastic dance remixes of songs that were virtually unrecognizable from the original versions (Armand Van Helden's overhaul of Tori Amos' "Professional Widow," David Morales and Mariah Carey's extreme makeover of "Always Be My Baby" and Clivilles and Coles' dramatic restructuring of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's "Let the Beat Hit 'Em," to name three of many). But then, the '90s was a magical time all-around.

Things haven't been completely downhill since then. The dance beat underscoring the remix of Adele's weepy "Someone Like You" in Bangkok's bars and clubs never sounds quite right, no matter how many times I hear it, but Bruno Mars's "Grenade" actually gets better when you add a little kick to it. Here are 10 other remixes that do the source material justice that don't involve dance divas, strobe lights or '90s originals.

Bryan Ferry "BF Bass (Ode to Olympia) (West End Wolf Mix)" Unlike the bonus CD of filler remixes that accompanied Lady Gaga's Born This Way last year, the companion piece to Ferry's 2010 album Olympia felt as essential as the centerpiece album, which was far less heralded than it should have been. If anyone had said it before I heard the remix of the track that gives the album its title, I would have called them crazy, but I'd like to see Ferry go totally out there and record an entire album of original cutting-edge electronica-influenced rock & roll. Click here to listen to this one in its entirety.

Tanita Tikaram "Twist in My Sobriety (Tikaramp Radio Mix)" I never really got into the 1988 original, which was a massive hit all over the world, except for the U.S., of course. In fact, until this remix surfaced in the '90s, I associated the song more with Liza Minnelli, who covered it quite nicely on her 1989 Pet Shop Boys-produced album Results. Now I can barely recall how the song was supposed to sound in the first place.

Janet Jackson "The Pleasure Principle (Danny Tenaglia Remix)" Can I get some nasty bass? Thank you, Danny. Her finest moment ever -- and you won't find it on any Janet Jackson album.

Coldplay "Talk (Thin White Duke Remix)" Why everyone flocks to that dreadful David Guetta when Stuart Price, the man behind Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor and killer remixes of the Killers "Mr. Brightside" and Depeche Mode's "A Pain That I'm Used To," is alive and well is completely beyond me. MDNA would have been so much better had he been involved.

Robyn "Crash and Burn Girl (Jesper Dahlback Remix)" So many Robyn remixes, so little time! I'm glad this one didn't pass me by. It took the budget production of the '80s-inflected fourth single from her self-titled 2005 fourth album, tweaked it inside-out, and brought it right up to the next minute. A crowning Robyn achievement.

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