Review: Michael Jackson’s “The Remix Suite”

Oct 22, 2009 5:51pm

Let the shameless cash-in begin.  This disc is simply a collection of remixes built out of Michael’s early Motown work.  What has happened since his death has apparently opened the door for a lot of tributes. He’s being shown a level of appreciation he never would have if he were alive, which in itself is a truly sad statement.  Some of these tributes are good and some are rather hollow.  This one for the most part is rather hollow.  Taking Motown music and remixing it is a delicate task.  Unlike much of the popular mre electro-infused R&B of later decades, the original era of Motown consists of some of the funkiest, most organic sounding pop music ever put onto tape.  When remixing such music you either have to keep that smooth, earthy feeling (i.e. leave some essence of the Funk Brothers’ music intact) or do a bang-up reinvention.  This has been done well before.  A few years back, Motown released a fine collection called “Motown Remixed.”  It worked well more than it failed and Z-Trip’s remix of “I Want You Back” was a highlight.  But on that remix, it was obvious he was adding a beat to enhance the original tapes, not doing a frighteningly radical reconstruction.  Stargate’s remix of “Skywriter” isn’t the worst offender here, but it’s also not great.  It sounds like the Jackson 5 have been swallowed through a psychedelic vocoder and the beat is a basic house-pound, mixed with some electro-clash laser sounds.  It’s an interesting reinvention, but it doesn’t astound. The Neptunes attack “Never Can Say Goodbye” with their signature sleazy synths.  The Neptunes can be one of the more innovative production teams working today, but here, they seem mismatched.  Michael Jackson doesn’t need Pharrell to back him up, shouting, “Oh!!” and “Get ‘Em Mike.”  It just seems pieced together.  A great remix should sound like a cool piece of music which can stand on its own.  Dallas Austin puts some wonky disco synths over the beautiful, “I Wanna Be Where You Are.”  He does however get bonus points for keeping most of the original instrumentation in the background.  (The flutes preserve the track’s depth.) Is there a need for two remixes of “Dancing Machine?”  Of all the Jackson 5 hits, it’s one of their most dated.  Polow adds some fire to it, but again, the track is hindered by strange synth-work and way too much talking over the beat.  These eager producers and remixers are obviously fans who want to have their voices heard on a Michael Jackson record.  It serves more as a distraction than anything. Salaam Remi’s dub-y reggae take on “ABC” is admirable, but it doesn’t quite mesh as well as it should.  At least the piano line is intact.  Frankie Knuckles delivers a by-the-numbers house version of “Forever Came Today.”  If you’re in a club, lost in the moment, it might do the trick, but otherwise it seems somewhat half-baked for regular listening. Sure, it funks out.  Sure, it’s got soul, but this song deserves more than a house dirge.  In the middle, the track stops and comes back in.  The second half is better than the first, but the original is best.  Next, Steve Aoki’s takes on the album’s second version of “Dancing Machine.”  It’s just alright.  It’s too shiny, again coated in cheeseball synths.  It ends up coming out seeming incredibly polished but sterile. There are a few fleeting moments whre the track comes off like a great break-dancing jam, but as I said, these moments are indeed fleeting. David Morales makes “Hum Along & Dance” sound over-computerized. It is very workman-like in its calculation and doesn’t really go anywhere.  It ends up just washing over you without leaving much of an impression.  Benny Blanco takes on Michael’s version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  There are some interesting uses of echo and vocal-splicing here, but again, the synths put a damper on the whole thing.  It sounds too much like a downbeat Nintendo game.  All of the soul has been sucked out.  Emile Haynie gets it right, remixing “Maria (You Were The Only One.)” Keeping the drama of the original and adding some funk, this is a stirring remix which keeps the integrity of the original without the use of fad-y gloss.  Sturken & Rogers strip-down “Maybe Tomorrow,” and this works as well, even when the crude, clapping drum machine kicks in.  This remix works the best because Michael’s voice is at its center.  He was a dynamite vocalist! Many of these remixes lose that in the layers. Akon’s remix of “Ben” closes the set.  It would work better if his voice wasn’t singing along on the track.  At least he didn’t put some strange dance beat over it.  Like most remix albums, this one is uneven at best.  At the time of his death, Michael wasn’t at the peak of his popularity.  Since then he has become one of the biggest selling artists of the year.  What’s sad is that with better remixes, done with more imagination and respect, this could’ve been a great exercise.  Sure, no doubt these remixes were done with love and appreciation but they don’t rival the original works.  Remixing is a truly delicate science.  The timing of this album’s release seems to signal a quick money grab.  That aspect of the way Jackson’s music has been handled since his death seems rather distasteful.  All around, he deserved batter.

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