Sunday, January 28, 2007

Jukebox Juicebox #25

Radio 4 “Electrify” (2003)
A US EP collecting single remixes previously released in the UK, this compilation focuses on Radio 4’s defining song Dance To The Underground. The New Version is essentially a radio friendly remix, the rough edges of the DFA-produced original smoothed out, with inevitably less impact. Fortunately, the accompanying remixes more than make up for this. The DFA’s nine-minute instrumental version marries a pulsing beat to synth strings to thrilling effect before climaxing with some wonderfully off-key “da da da”’s. The Playgroup Remix is everything you’d expect from the unassailable Trevor Jackson, a relentless disco dub built around the incredibly infectious original bassline. The Faint’s remix is more off-kilter, the vocals laid over a frequently changing tempo and Oriental sounding chimes with unsettling effect. Start A Fire is a shadow of the EP’s key song and, despite a pulsating overhaul, even Justin Robertson seems unable to find a spark to really set this track off. Likewise, Adrian Sherwood roughs up Struggle in a dub style, with some help from Mark Stewart. It’s reminiscent of Sherwood’s similar mangling of Living Colour’s Auslander a decade previously, but lacks it’s bite. The extended mix of the New Version essentially restores the killer opening bassline though the original version (included here as a video) remains the definitive take. The video itself is worth a mention, if only as an example of how music defines your mental image of a band. I’d imagined Radio 4 as Strokes-like aesthetically aware New New Wavers. Disconcerting then to find that they are in fact Coldplay fronted by Gary Jules. Time to send in the Fab Five from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy methinks…

Tracklisting: 1. Dance To The Underground (new version – radio edit) / 2. (the dfa version) / 3. (playgroup remix) / 4. (prance mix) / 5. Start A Fire (justin robertson vocal remix) / 6. Struggle (adrian sherwood/mark stewart mutant disco vocal mix) / 7. Dance To The Underground (new version – full length) + Dance To The Underground (original version) [video]

N.B. There’s also a German version of the Electrify EP, featuring a considerably different tracklisting.

Little Axe “Ride On (Fight On)” (1994)
Skip MacDonald’s Little Axe project references his possibly better known contributions to the On-Usound stable, unsurprising given the involvement of Doug Wimbish, Keith Le Blanc and producer Adrian Sherwood. However, Little Axe’s sound has less of a rough edge and incorporates elements of blues and gospel music that differenitates it from, say, the likes of Tackhead. The opening two versions of the lead track provide a rallying call to “sisters and brothers” but, despite the title, the song is more focused on the groove, rather than the message. Fluke’s remix is more spacious, giving the rhythm room to breathe and remaining one of their better reworkings. Bonus track Hear My Cry’s sole line “I love the Lord, he heard my cry, Lord, Lord, Lord” similarly betrays it’s influences, but with less impact.

Tracklisting: 1. Ride On (Fight On) (7” edit) / 2. (control tower mix) / 3. (fluke mid-fi surprise) / 4. Hear My Cry

Morrissey & Siouxsie “Interlude” (1994)
The idea of pairing Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux on a cover version of the title track from an obscure 1968 film, sung by Italian-American chanteuse Timi Yuro, seems on the surface an odd one. Yet, there’s a subtlety in each singer’s delivery of that both complements the other and plays to their melancholic strengths. The song, as the film, focuses on two lovers living in the moment of their intense attraction to one another, uncertain if “what seems like an interlude now / could be the beginning of love”. Yet there’s a sense of resigned inevitability that “love will end” which lends both vocalists delivery an added resonance. The extended version is perhaps the most effective as it’s instrumental second half accentuates the feeling that the narrative lovers will fail to “hold fast to the dream”. The third – and, at seven and a half minutes, the longest – track is enjoyable in it’s own right but makes the listener hanker for the fully blooded version. Despite being a Top 30 hit at the time, Interlude seems to be a bit of a forgotten gem, it’s only subsequent appearance (fortunately in it’s full length version) being on Morrissey’s 1997 best of Suedehead. Worth seeking out.

Tracklisting: 1. Interlude / 2. (extended) / 3. (instrumental)

Portishead “All Mine” (1997)
As Portishead make painfully slow progress with their third album, it’s increasingly difficult to remember the impact of 1997’s self-titled second. The band’s decision to retain their characteristic fusion of cinematic soundscapes and Beth Gibbons’ smoky nightclub chanteuse, but through layered, complex recording rather than sampling, may have seemed sheer madness. However, as the opening salvos of All Mine and Cowboys amply demonstrate, it was possibly a price worth paying. The opening moments of All Mine are classic John Barry, but Gibbons’ vocals take the song into another dimension entirely. Despite a subconscious inability to focus past Gibbons’ lisp, which at times makes her sound as if she’s singing without the benefit of teeth, her voice is spine-tinglingly magnificent. Her performance is perfectly matched, both to the eerie narrative about obsessive love, and the frankly unsettling musical backing that supports it. Cowboys is the bridge between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Portishead, containing more of Geoff Barrow’s looped beats and screeching scratches and Adrian Utley’s squalling guitar. Beth Gibbons’ lyrics are wonderfully ambiguous, equally open to interpretation as a comment on dodgy builders (okay, I'm joking here) or the record business in general. The instrumental version gives more space to the intricate layering of sounds, but Gibbons absence is painfully felt, so it’s the full vocal version that does it for me. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to greet a new Portishead single by the tenth anniversary of their last…

Tracklisting: 1. All Mine / 2. Cowboys / 3. Cowboys (instrumental)

Traci Lords “Fallen Angel” (1995)
Ex-porn star Lords provided guest vocals on the Manic Street Preachers’ Little Baby Nothing, leading to a solo album 1000 Fires, produced by trance/techno heavyweight Juno Reactor. Fallen Angel, the second single, provides half a dozen mixes over half an hour and seems to be trying to cast it’s net of appeal widely. Lords is, perhaps unsurprisingly, hardly the strongest vocalist and the lyrics, though unexpectedly reflective, are a bit by-the-numbers. Nevertheless, the original version is a solid track with the remixes taking the song in interesting directions for the most part. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith and Dave Navarro provide an edit and extended mix, beefing up the song with rock guitar. Primax deliver typical mid-1990s Euro Pop fare, which is fun but unmemorable. Least inspired is the Muzik Club Vocal mix, Johnny Vicious’ characterisitic single-note tinny synth strings and repetitive beats quickly grating. Undisputed highlight is the Perfecto Mix adds club-friendly beats and flamenco guitar to the song’s angelic chorus hook and is arguably one of Paul Oakenfold’s finest moments.

Tracklisting: 1. Fallen Angel (honeymoon stich radio mix) / 2. (perfecto mix) / 3. (muzik club vocal) / 4. (primax iberiann mix) / 5. (honeymoon stich mix) / 6. (original album mix)

Boxcar “Universal Hymn” (1993)
A pulsing trance/techno pop track with it’s sampled refrain “the prayers of mankind are with you” and ‘celestial chorus’, not to mention a brace of mixes from Lionrock mainman Justin Robertson, this is pretty de rigueur for the early 1990s UK dancefloor. However, quite how this Brisbane act were been received in their native Australia is another matter. Travelling the country in 1990-91, finding clubs that tapped into the exciting dance music scene that I’d left in the UK was a largely unrewarding task, Perth in particular still stuck in the mid-1980s, musically speaking. Of Universal Hymn's four mixes, the Radio Mix is perhaps the least memorable, the band’s superior Mandrake Mix (slightly) extending the track and adding further sampled shouts that recall Moby’s Go. However it’s Justin Robertson’s mixes, typical of his output at the time, that raise the song to another level. The Pure Pandephonium mix remains pretty faithful to the original though is more uptempo and spacious. The instrumental Faster Mix does exactly what it says by nudging the BPMs up a notch further and ditching the samples to great effect.

Tracklisting: 1. Universal Hymn (radio mix) / 2. (pure pandephonium) / 3. (mandrake mix) / 4. (faster mix)

The Boo Radleys “Free Huey” (1998)
Poor Martin Carr: a criminally underrated songwriter, his band The Boo Radleys produced a wealth of top-notch material in the 1990s. Sadly, they’ll probably register in the public consciousness purely for their breakthrough hit Wake Up Boo! By 1998, the fatigue of fighting against public indifference was inevitably taking it’s toll and Free Huey proved to be the band’s swansong single. Characteristically, the record buying masses ignored this in favour of Oasis and Blur and Martin Carr called time on The Boo Radleys shortly afterwards. In many ways, the band’s strength and weakness was vocalist Sice. Not the strongest singer, there’s an engaging quality to his performance which draws the listener in. However, with more pumped-up, aggressive tracks like What’s In The Box, C’mon Kids and here on Free Huey, Sice simply comes across as too lightweight. The great thing about The Boo Radleys is that their EPs were packed full of tunes that were on par with their albums, and this is no exception. Everything Falls Away gradually develops into a stomping 1970s inspired pop song that could easily have been a single in it’s own right, whilst In A Galaxy Far, Far Away is an admirable attempt at a dub-inspired groove, with Sice on good form on both tracks.

Tracklisting: 1. Free Huey / 2. Everything Falls Away / 3. In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Moby “Spiders” (2005)
Hotel was an underwhelming album, yet Spiders’s determinedly middle of the road sound made for a logical single release. It would have been nice to have seen some mixes of Spiders added to the single to provide some much needed oomph, which seemed to work with the similarly uninspired Lift Me Up. With it’s refrain of “Let peace and beauty reign / and bring us love again”, a more dancefloor-focused Spiders could have recalled the heyday of similarly celebratory tracks like Feeling So Real and Everytime You Touch Me. Speaking of past glories Put The Headphones On, like so much of Moby’s material this decade, sounds like a rehash of his 1990s work. In this case it’s a (slightly) sped up but anaesthetised version of the sphincter-shaking menace that is Moby’s remix of The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979. A throwaway instrumental, Put The Headphones On is therefore typical Moby B-side fodder. Last but not least (albeit only by the skin of it’s teeth) is a remix of Raining Again by Ewan Pearson. If you read my previous review of Goldfrapp’s Ride A White Horse, then you’ll know that I don’t quite ‘get’ Pearson's appeal. I find most of his mixes perfunctory rather than innovative and that’s pretty much the case here. At least Pearson ups the tempo and strips the vocals to a single line (“sadness like water raining down, raining down”), elevating the remix from the original’s mediocrity. A disappointing single on every level.

Tracklisting: 1. Spiders (album version) / 2. Put The Headphones On / 3. Raining Again (ewan pearson vocal)

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