Depeche Mode - Remixes 1981 > 2004
Wikipedia defines the remix rather prissily as follows:
“A remix is an alternate version of a song different from the original version…to extend its popularity or to give a song that wasn't popular a second chance… it is often used in hip-hop and rap music… (and) usually has the same music as the original song but has added or different verses that are rapped or sung”.
The roots of the remix can be traced back to the late seventies, but really rose into prominence in the mid to late eighties, when the extended format was king and it was common place for artists to release a 12” to accompany the single. Some artists embraced the idea to its maximum potential – Pet Shop Boys for example consistently produced fresh, exciting mixes, on a variety of formats for all their singles, as did New Order and Erasure.
Some however completely missed the point, thinking that all you had to do was just make your song longer with a few tweaks and voila, you had a remix. Basically, some songs can cope with a remix, and some cannot. INXS are a good example of a band woefully inept when it came to the remix – a laughably bad extended version of “Need You Tonight” was released, and their mix of “What You Need” is possibly the worst I have ever heard, just randomly repeating great chunks of the song to pad out an extra 4 minutes or so. There is a mix of “Kick It In” by Simple Minds that to me comes a close second, sounding like what happens when you press “REPEAT A-B” on your CD player. The Cure released their woeful remix album, which again showed that some bands should just leave the remix alone. And then of course, there was Depeche Mode, who commissioned excellent, exciting extended arrangements of their singles, pretty much from the word go.
The earliest Depeche Mode remix to feature on this album comes from 1981 with "Shout", the b-side to their second single, "New Life". And it is actually pretty good, full of moody echo, not that different to the original, just a lot longer. Also from 1981 comes the extended version of "Just Can't Get Enough", which is completely mental - keyboards chirrup and sequencers trigger endless beats and noises.
However, the best example of an "early" Mode remix is the Combination Mix of "Get the Balance Right", a fabulous creation, taking the track onto the dance floor and doing far more than just "extend" it. It shows how Depeche Mode truly understood the art of the remix - repetition is one thing, but a truly great mix keeps the essence of the song whilst turning out something different.
This three CD collection brings together "the best" of their output, though much has been omitted. What is here though is excellent, the first track on the first CD being, in my opinion, about as good as Depeche Mode have ever got. The split mix of "Never Let Me Down" is incredible, an exhilarating ride of orchestral slabs of music. Bringing together both the single version and the "Aggro" mix, it is a simply wonderful experience where everything is thrown at the song and, for once, everything sticks. Truly a standout moment and the finest thing on these CD's.
Also good on the first CD is the "Capitol Mix" of "Policy of Truth", where again the remix sounds fresh but also stays true to the song. Air's mix of "Home" is sadly pretty dull, a remark that could never be aimed at the "Blind" mix of "Strangelove", where Daniel Miller is let loose to produce a twitchy, slightly mental version of an already bonkers song. Another highlight in Renegade Soundwaves version of "I Feel You", and Beatmasters with "Route 66" - adding sounds from "Behind the Wheel" to excellent effect. Less good though is Underworld's "Hard Mix" of "Barrel of a Gun" - in fact, it is pretty awful. It is surprising to see it on here - the band have gone down on record saying that they thought it poor, bearing no relation whatsoever with the original, sending it back to have a few vocals added. Martin Gore said at the time - "different key, different speed - different song!", and he's right, apart from the odd line, nothing of the song is here.
CD two opens with the awesome "Pump Mix" of Personal Jesus, which takes an already superb song to a whole new level, crisp production and a real sense of invention turning this into a fine track. "Breathing in Fumes", an alternative version of "Stripped" is also worthy of a mention - its challenging, interesting, and puts a new slant on the song. The On-U Sound mix of "Master and Servant" though is very poor, where the song is buried amid distortion, chopped and spliced to make it sound merely annoying.
CD three contains mostly unreleased and new mixes, and there is some fine stuff on here. The rock mix of "Nothing" is wonderful, guitars and drums but still with a sinister electronic edge, it manages to even improve on the album version. Goldfrapp's version of "Halo" is also very special, sounding elegant, Alison Goldfrapp's vocals cold and mysterious. Best track on this CD though is Rex the Dog's "Dubb" mix of "Photographic", which is genius, clipped vocals to a pulsing beat - enormously exciting and perfect for clubs.
This is an excellent collection that showcases how close to the cutting edge Depeche Mode have been over the years. Some fine mixes have been omitted (the "Quad" mix of "Enjoy the Silence" is sorely missed), but that was always going to be the case with a collection so vast. This is an essential purchase for anyone with a passing interest in dance culture.