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Future Retro: Various Artists (Rhino Records)

June 1, 2006 Ryan Breegle   Comments

As DJs and remixers attempt to push musical boundaries to come up with a new sound or a different way to keep the club kids dancing, they never fail to draw upon the synth pop classics of 20 years ago to further their efforts. It is only fitting that modern DJs come clean and admit to the world what artists from the 1980s drive them to produce the work they do today. A new compilation, “Future Retro,” allows them to put their individual spin on their favorite new wave hits, paying tribute to their idols of the past while spreading their unique vision of dance music today.

These remixed 1980s artists, if not openly gay, proudly embraced a sexual ambiguity where the line between straight and gay was beautifully blurred. Vince Clark, a former member of the duo Yaz and a current member of the duo Erasure, has songs from each of his groups featured; DJ Richard X gives the Yaz song “Situation” a pulsing bass line while making the most of singer Alison Moyet’s soulfully deep voice and laugh; Jaded Alliance tackles the Erasure song “A Little Respect” with a sad, minor-key slant.  Clarke’s first pop band, Depeche Mode, is featured on “Shake the Disease,” a song written after he left the band. Stylish and effeminate, DJ Tiga comes through on this Depeche Mode song about communication and love in all the ways he failed on his recent debut record, “Sexor”: it’s moody, melodic, and it captures the brilliance of the original, although now backed by a fun bass line and drumbeat.

Other highlights include a speedy version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” by Static Revenger; Alphaville’s anthem to youth “Forever Young” has been completely transformed by DJ Hamel; while DJ Irene Rockstar has given us a hard-hitting industrial take on Book Of Love’s tribute to a “Boy.”

Each song has the distinct stamp of its remixer, yet they all have the same vision in mind, so they do play well as a cohesive compilation—with one exception:  the final track is a reworking of a classic by once-asexual now openly homosexual pop singer Morrissey by a duo, the Sparks, whom he actually idolized as a young boy during the 1970s in Manchester.  The Sparks, brothers Ron and Russell Mael, have always been big on understated humor, and even after working together for more than 30 years, they have not lost their playful nature. They take Morrissey’s voice and splice it up over a slow drum beat and organ, producing a whimsical, hypnotic, and laugh-out-loud version of “Suedehead,” focusing on the repetition of such lines as “I’m so very sickened” and “Just to read my diary,” nearly creating an entirely new song. The result is something fans of the original must hear.

In the liner notes, compilation producer Craig Degraff states that he always thought it would be a great idea to “take some of my favorite songs of all time and have my favorite DJ’s and artists remix them.” This is a great idea, and the result is a collection of songs that could easily be mixed into a night of dance club hits without those on the dance floor feeling as though they’ve stepped into Decades. As technology continues to improve, it is the spirit of the New Wave ’80s that lives on with new sounds and new sexual boundaries waiting to be crossed.

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