Monday, February 06, 2006

Future Retro

You know you’re officially old when CDs with music from your high school years have the word “retro” in the title. Another bad sign is when those retro hits get reworked by modern studio magicians to appeal to today’s listeners. In theory, I should hate the concept and execution of Rhino’s new Future Retro compilation CD, but somehow it works by both honoring the subversive hits of the 80s and making them relevant for modern tastes.

The track selection is especially impressive and cohesive with the exception of one head-scratcher unfamiliar to me, Book of Love’s Boy. The original song selections can mostly be labeled New Wave and thankfully steer away from any pure pop hits, instead focusing on songs that mostly never cracked the US charts but are instantly familiar to any alternative music fans of the 80s. In fact, the original tracks could stand up well as a compilation on their own, a solid time capsule of a bygone era.

The original artists were revolutionary pioneers of their time, fusing traditional rock music with futuristic synths for an entirely new sound that launched alternative music as a viable genre and legitimized club culture after the disco crash. It’s fitting then that the electronic talents of today were called into duty to put a new spin on these songs that launched the culture currently supporting them.

Thankfully, Rhino chose a credible stable of remixers for this project. They’re not huge artists for the most part but they’re also not cheesy Eurotrance hacks. Actually, there’s only one track that veers near the trance style, and it’s the weakest of the set, the Hamel Album Mix of Alphaville’s Forever Young. In fairness, the original song is a bit of an albatross to start with but in different hands it might have had some promise. The styles for the rest of the crew range from breakbeat pros The Crystal Method remixing New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle to progressive house legends Way Out West on Echo & The Bunnymen’s Lips Like Sugar to hard house diva DJ Irene on the aforementioned Book of Love track.

It’s refreshing that the remixers didn’t strip these songs down to just a vocal sample from the choruses. For the most part, they include all of the vocals and enough basic music framework from the originals to appeal to the oldsters. I can’t go so far as to say that they improve upon any of the originals, but they all offer their own unique and refreshing spins on them that add up to an enjoyable trip down memory lane and a worthy bid to return them to club prominence twenty years after their prime.


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