Future Retro Label: Rhino
The concept behind the remix compilation Future Retro is far from new. These songs, which launched an army of DJ’s, have been getting worked over for years now. In fact, it began before the ‘80s were even over; in 1989, M’s Robin Scott took a second whack at his seminal one-hit wonder “Pop Muzik,” while Real Life made an updated, and superior, version of their 1983 hit “Send Me an Angel.” Most of the mixes since, though, have sucked rocks, taking a song that was both a dance floor sensation and a major stepping stone in the evolution in modern rock and turning it into a droning ten-minute trance mix that has absolutely nothing to do with the original song (ahem, remix of New Order’s “Confusion” from the Blade soundtrack). Those aren’t remixes; they’re abominations.
And unfortunately, some of the mixes on Future Retro are abominations, too. Way Out West is a nifty little house outfit - their song “Secret” is worth its weight in gold - but they shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar.” You just knew that they’d strip the song for parts, keeping the vocal and perhaps the guitar riff, and that is precisely what they’ve done. While they were at it, they drained the song’s energy by about 25%, for good measure. Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel are done an even greater disservice by Elite Force’s mix of “White Lines (Don’t Do It).” The song, quite simply, is gone; most importantly, the bass line is gone. How in the hell do you remix “White Lines” and get rid of that badass bass line? It boggles the mind.
A couple songs get minor key makeovers, where the song is more or less intact but a few chords are adjusted in order to make an upbeat song seem darker. Jaded Alliance’s mix of Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” for example, turns one of the bubbliest songs on the set into a weird blend of Kraftwerk-ian seriousness, and Peter Black and Hardrock pull a similar stunt on Howard Jones’ “New Song.” It’s understandable why people would want to rough these songs up some (we’ll get to that in a minute, since one mix does it to glorious effect), but the reason these songs are so widely adored to begin with is because of the song at the core, not its danceability. If the song is stripped away, then what’s left? Not much, unfortunately.
But enough bellyaching: how about the ones that got it right? Infusion’s remix of the Cure classic “The Walk” is a good start, giving the track a nice modern punch that allows it to stand apart from Robert Smith’s own mix of the song from 1990’s Mixed Up. Sparks go absolutely nuts with Morrissey’s “Suedehead,” and in the process create the first, and probably last, dub mix of a Moz song in history. But what a dub mix it is, laying vocal loop on top of vocal loop and fleshing the rest out with acoustic guitar, strings, and a half-speed drum track. Crystal Method turns in the second best mix ever done of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” - Shep Pettibone’s mix will always reign supreme - but sweet Jesus, look at what Irene Rockstar did to Book of Love’s “Boy.” “Beautifully bored” singer Susan Ottaviano (my wife came up with that line) finds her synth pop landscape replaced by a wall of guitars, like some lost Garbage track circa Version 2.0. Sweet, sweet stuff.
Future Retro is not the gold standard for remix albums, but then again, that assumes that there will ever be a gold standard remix album. They all have their ups and downs, and this one is no exception. Go into Future Retro with the right expectations, and you’ll be just fine.
Note: If you’re into ‘80s songs getting a makeover, see if you can find the following mixes. Most are from the early ‘90s, but they are absolutely worth hunting down.
Duran Duran - “Save a Prayer,” Thunder in Our Hearts Remix by Steve Anderson.
Quite simply the most mesmerizing remix I’ve ever heard. You may not dance to
it, but the orchestral sweeps will give you chills.
Eurythmics - “Love Is a Stranger,” remix by Coldcut.
Yaz - “Situation ’90,” Aggressive Attitude Mix by Youth.
Human League - “Love Action, (I Believe in Love)” remix by Steve Anderson.
New Order - “Confusion,” remix by Omar Santana
Talk Talk - “Life’s What You Make It,” remix by BBG.
Depeche Mode - “Enjoy the Silence,” remix by Mike Shinoda. (Yep, the Linkin Park guy. Best thing that band will ever be associated with.)