Silent Alarm Remixed
hat’s a remix? What’s a remix for? In 1997 James Lavelle made The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” danceable, but he lost its (nebulous terminology alert) soul. Perhaps. My girlfriend’s brother is a hip-hop fan who rarely listens to anything else; he once asked me “how can you remix rock?” in full sincerity, because it seemed like an alien concept to him. In 2005, when “rock” means Keane and Athlete to a lot of people, you can understand his incredulity.
The joy of Bloc Party’s debut album Silent Alarm isn’t easily pinned down. The energy? Yes, especially as a juxtaposition with the tepid tempos of the likes of Daniel Powter. The complexity of arrangement? In this day and age of repeat-repeat-repeat pop music, definitely. The emotional impact? Next to Coldplay’s platitudes, of course. In many ways Paul Epworth’s production on Silent Alarm (hyper-dense, unrealistic, headache-inducingly busy) made it seem like a set of decent post-punk revivalist songs that had already been remixed into fantasticalness, with odd mixing levels, gregarious synth fills, and other unexpected elements making it very much a “studio” record rather than a “song” record. So what happens when those 13 slices of kinetic, dramatic, passionate adolescent pretension get farmed out to a host of superstar DJs (and post-rockers and laptop-geeks) for reinterpretation?
Silent Alarm Remixed is an odd affair that I can’t fully get a grip on. Is it more formally interesting than the album that spawned it? I guess so, in a very dispassionate way, but if you really think the original was boring then you’re in the enviable position of managing to avoid, ooh, 70% of Radio 1’s regular daytime playlist. In a world where the stoned platitudes of Jack Johnson and the nonsensical atonal warblings of James Blunt dominate the charts and airwaves of Britain, the occasional airing of “So Here We Are” or “Banquet” is a moment of exhilarating refreshment.
So what do people do with these remixes exactly? The Ladytron remix of “Like Eating Glass” makes the previously strident opener a strangely muted affair, as if it was bleeding through the thin walls of university accommodation, some second-hand song that could be either tantalising or infuriating depending on your mood. It seems perverse for a remix to alleviate a song of its dynamic, but, after repeated exposure, it works after a fashion. The “Whitey Version” of “Helicopter” draws out the original a little for seemingly no reason (something too many of the remixes here are guilty of), while Engineers make “Blue Light” into a piece of piping ambience that, while very, very pleasant, doesn’t manage to improve on the gorgeous blueprint. M83 make “Pioneers” even more dramatic than it is on the album by removing practically all the percussion and accentuating the idealist desperation of the tune by billowing everything upwards on a bed of trademark vintage keys. Dave Pianka makes “This Modern Love” into a 21st century Blondie thing that I dearly wish Debbie Harry was singing instead of Kele. That’s a recurrent problem, actually—the recontextualisation of Kele’s vocals, removed from Epworth’s sympathetic stereo-treatment and layering, often reveals the inherent weakness in the singer’s voice which has helped make Bloc Party such a frustrating live prospect thus far in their career.
So many times what has stood out about Bloc Party is their ability to build tension and then break for the skyline in delirious fashion, carrying our emotions with them in a totally uninvited but welcome fashion—the art of the remix necessarily alters the dynamics of the source material, and this removal of one of the band’s key attributes seems like a shame when one first encounters this collection of outsourced post-production attempts at musical alchemy. When someone merely adds further cybernetic sheen to an already modernist tune (Death From Above 1979’s take on “Luno,” for example) then the result is as enjoyable and exhilarating as the original, albeit in a slightly different direction, but one has to wonder why you’d bother when the original was fine anyway.
Predictably though, I’m going to say that there’s one really outstanding moment here, and even more predictably for me I’m going to claim that’s it’s Four Tet’s interpretation of “So Here We Are,” already my favourite track from Silent Alarm and in serious danger of being one of my favourite singles of the year too. What does Kieran Hebdon do right that so many others merely do adequately? He amplifies what the tune is about, and he does so by toning it down a little, making the microcosmic details more important. It’s not a tune about love, specifically, but rather (according to Kele in interviews) a tune about the euphoria of an initial drug-rush, and this slightly shifted focus, emphasising the kind of unimportant details that drugs actually accentuate, works marvellously, especially when you realise he hasn’t sacrificed the song’s scintillating and key shift in pace in the latter third. It’s gorgeous, and quite possibly better than the “proper” version.
(Hidden away on the proper version of Silent Alarm Remixed is, I gather, the remix of “Tulips” which has already appeared somewhere or other as a b-side—it too is wonderful, and a definite improvement on the [already very good] original.)