Record Review: Retro:Active 3

Hi-Bias Records | CAN | CD | 2005 | HIB-10262

Hi-Bias Records | CAN | CD | 2005 | HIB-10262

Various Artists: Retro:Active 3 CAN CD [2005]

  1. When In Rome – The Promise (Coliseum Mix) – 6:29
  2. Simple Minds – Someone, Somewhere (In Summertime) (Extended Version) – 6:05
  3. Big Pig – Breakaway (Popper Mix) – 6:02
  4. INXS – The One Thing (Extended Mix) – 6:08
  5. Cetu Javu – Have In Mind (Kalimba Mix) – 5:34
  6. Alphaville – Romeos (Balcony Mix) – 5:57
  7. Book Of Love – Witchcraft (Extended Mix) – 5:17
  8. Maurice & The Clichés – Soft Core (Long Version) – 4:24
  9. Bananarama – Cruel Summer (Swing Beat Dub Mix) – 5:19
  10. Associates – Take Me To The Girl (12″ Mix) – 6:35
  11. Duran Duran – Save A Prayer (DMC Mix) – 7:20
  12. Moev – Wanting (Remix) – 5:41
  13. Peter Schilling – The Different Story (World Of Lust And Crime) (Long Version) – 6:39

I think that the Hi-Bias label at one point looked at the ‘Hardest Hits’ series by fellow Canadian label SPG Records and thought they could get some of that action. I had previously bought Volume 2 of “Retro:Active” and found it to be a fair collection of 12″ mixes. The tracks I bought it for were the draw, and that didn’t change any after purchase.  The issues I had with the volume was that it all to accurately reflected the state of post-New Wave dance music of the mid 80s. It just wasn’t anything to get too passionate about for me. Would Volume 3 change my mind?

I bought Volume three afterward for two reasons. Firstly, it had the 12″ mix of “Someone, Somewhere [In Summertime]” on CD and I had the erroneous 1st pressing of Simple Minds’s “Themes” issues of 12″ mixes where the LP cut was mastered to the disc instead of the 12″ extended version. When making my SImple Minds BSOG® in 2002 I had to remaster from the vinyl and this stuck a little in my craw. Secondly, I was working on an Associates BSOG® [adrift now for years, sadly] and this disc had the 12″ mix of “Take Me To The Girl.”

It wasn’t promising [really, no pun intended] that the disc opened with the grotesquely over-the-top Freddy Bastone “Coliseum Mix” of When In Rome’s only hit. What’s worse, I had the superior [for what it’s worth] “O. N. Mix” of “The Promise” on another New Wave comp of mine. Such that the song itself was a slight, puppydog version of deprecated synthpop ca. 1988… years past its sell-by date, I really didn’t need to hear the borderline repulsive Bastone remix that made the cut sound like “Pump Up The Volume!” Garish.

The distinctive echoplexed guitar intro exclusive to the 12″ extended mix of the lush Simple Minds number was an aural salve to soothe the wounds inflicted by track one. Having been refreshed, track three appeared. I loved the “Bonk” album by Big Pig, but regret that the remix of the awesome “Breakaway” included here was the Nick Launay “Popper Mix,” which was hamstrung by a gimmicky sampled riff instead of the Roli Mosimann extended version I was previously familiar with. The track, if you’ve not had the pleasure, was packed with what sounds like bubblewrap cells being popped; hence the name of the remix.

Stronger Antipodean thrills came courtesy of the extended mix of the early US breakthrough hit by INXS. “The One Thing” was given a sound dusting of dub effects and ca. 1982 12″ technique that sounds good enough 32 years later. That the mix was not overly exposed back in the day [unlike the 7″ mix’ means that hearing this version still has novelty value.

Back in the day, I completely ignored the growing legion of Depeche Mode wanabees that were popping up in their successful wake. Germany’s Cetu Javu blended seamlessly together with America’s Red Flag, and they all were trailing the scabbed edge of synthpop that Depeche Mode were actively at the bleeding edge of by the mid-80s. “Have In Mind” was a mediocre track of little distinction. Far better synthpop from Germany was on offer from Alphaville, but in all honesty, the “Balcony Mix” of their single “Romeos” from “The Breathtaking Blue,” was clearly inferior to my ears to the “Maxi  Version” that I previously had on promo CD5. The latter mix was an example of taking a stellar album track and inflating it to just this side of grandiosity, while Richie Jones’ “Balcony Mix” stripped out much of the pomp and circumstance of the song to leave it somewhat flat.

I liked Book Of Love, but most of their remixes have not aged well with me and I find that I am jettisoning them from my collection ca. 2014. The classic albums serve me well enough. In the case of the Extended Mix of “Witchcraft,” the gimmicky track is better with brevity. The ping-ponging samples grow wearisome over the course of its shorter-than-you-think 5:17 running time.

One of the perks of this series are the inclusion of Canadian Content that may be unfamiliar to American ears. Maurice And The Clichés long version of their Canadian cult hit “Soft Core” is a treat I’ll pin down to the exquisitely deadpan delivery of vocalist Maurice Dépas. It’s almost generic New Wave ironically enlivened by Dépas world-weary vacancy in relating the lyric. When investigating this group, I have seen that their first album [“Soft Core” is from their second, final, waxing] contains a track called “Goodbye, Mr. Bond.” I can hear this track so vividly in my mind now that I am thinking that both albums by Maurice and the Clichés should sit in my Record Cell!

I have to state that the worst remixes I’ve ever heard in my life, were on the “Cruel Summer ’89” CD single ostensibly by Bananarama. These, as one can tell by the telltale year appended to the title, were examples of the dreaded post-modern mix; that whorish cash grab by rapacious labels that’s almost never in the artist’s best interests. Truth be told, I’ve never an example of it that’s worse than the Swing Beat Dub Mix of “Cruel Summer” included here! At least on the CD single I’ve already dispensed with, the 7″ Swing Beat mix was under four minutes of pain. Here, the dub mix [which includes full vocals… arrgh! Don’t get me started on those who abuse the notion of a dub mix… too late!!!] lasts for over five painful, new jack swing minutes!

The Duran Duran mix of “Save A Prayer” is a much better example of post-modern mix. The track was never remixed back in the day, but the DMC remix, which I was familiar with, is fairly musical remix that respected the gist of the classic mix but added a current beat to the cut and some complimentary samples. I recall hearing a techno mix of “Save A Prayer” from a remix service in a club in the early 90s that I thought was pretty amazing while dancing to it the one time I’d heard it. I then heard this track years later and it doesn’t sound like what I recalled from the single club play I heard, but there is a chance that this track is one and the same. Records sound vastly different in club than in one’s living room.

I remember hearing Moev on a Trouser Press flexidisc in the early 80s back when they had a female vocalist, Madeline Morris. I always intended to buy their album, “Zimmerkampf,” but never got around to it. I then lost track of Moev completely. This single comes from the later period of the band and it’s inoffensive late 80s synthpop with all of the slightly damning characteristics that the genre implied. Digital synths had removed much of the wind from synthpop’s sails and this track is par for course. really, by 1988 there was no reason for synthpop to exist.

Peter Schilling was never a compelling figure to me. He reeked of opportunism for having the temerity to write a sequel to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” But it sure gave him a profile, didn’t it? His other singles, were of a similar middlebrow, Europop stripe. Sure, it’s listenable… it’s much better than let’s say – Opus, but you can still practically smell the lederhosen. Michael Cretu’s production sounds particularly beholden to the dreaded Yamaha DX7.

At the end of the day, I am attracted to the idea of compilations of 12″ singles of years past, but the Retro:Active series thus far, have presented me with 2-3 cuts for the curation of various collections plus a plethora of also-ran, mid-80s material that fails to inspire. There is at least one more volume in this series that has an insanely rare OMD remix by William Orbit that I lack and I have to buy it one day since just the record goes for >$50 if you can find a copy. Material like this reaches my purchase threshold easily enough, but usually fails to push me from the ‘satisfied’ to ‘happy’ category.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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15 Responses to Record Review: Retro:Active 3

  1. Tim says:

    The only track on there that is a must have for me is the Duran Duran mix. I use that particular version on a three hour mix that I made called “Fake Plastic Karma; No Deposit No Return” and it mixes wonderfully with Graeme Revell’s instrumental cues from the soundtrack to Wim Wenders “Until the End of the World.”

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    • Echorich says:

      I’ll agree here with Tim, although I like the Someone, Somewhere (In Summertime) remix a great deal.
      Book Of Love has always been god awful in my mind…and they must have opened for EVERY act I saw in NYC in the mid 80’s…got to the point that my friends and I would just arrive late to show assuming they were the opening act and usually being right.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – Spot on with the Graeme Revell soundtrack cuts! I love that album and now that you suggest it, it appears effortlessly mixed with the Duran remix in my mind!

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  2. Rob C says:

    I would rate these compilations as mixed bag stuff only…they’re not as solidly consistent as one would expect, but they have a feverish following among 80s aficionados.

    I have all of these compilations in one form or another, but I can’t say I would go back to them time and time again (I’ll probably end up selling my volumes off at some point but Vol 2 is a keeper).

    In regards to MOEV, I highly recommend the Zimmerkampf CD…high quality electronic music that should have gotten more attention back in the day…their CD reissue, renamed The Early Years, can still be found relatively inexpensively.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Rob C – Thanks for the tip on the renamed “Zimmerkampf” CD. I will add that to the perpetual want list! I remember reading about the “Rotting Geraniums” 12″ and that title stuck with me for years. Personally, I think the “Hardest Hits” series hit closer to the marks that thrill me.

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  3. Rob C says:

    There are a few series that are absolutely essential as the building blocks to any 80s New Wave/Post-Punk collection:

    1) Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80s (1-15, plus the one-offs: Halloween, Christmas, Dance & New Wave Women) – Rhino
    2) Hang The DJ: Modern Rock Hits (86, 87, 88) – the 3-volume follow up on Rhino
    3) Postpunk Chronicles – another 3-volume series that is meant to supplement the JCGE series on Rhino
    4) DIY – 9 volume collection focusing on punk, underground, power pop – Rhino
    5) The Indie Scene – one for each of the years 1977-1986 – Connoisseur Collection
    6) New Wave Club Class-X – Belgian 8-volume series plus two 2-CD best of’s and special compilations for Belgium, Germany (2-CD) & Soft Classix.

    There are many others but these are a fantastic building block to a great collection.

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  4. I can add little to Rob C’s exquisite collection of sampler CDs, except for some vinyl comps I’m fond of (which is a subject for another day).

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  5. Taffy says:

    I have a strange fondness for this Peter Schilling track; in a weird way it reminds me musically of New Order’s True Faith (which of COURSE is an infinitely superior song), but for whatever the reason, I just like it. Meanwhile, as a huge Bananarama fan, I will agree that the Cruel Summer mix on Retro:Active 3 is simply gruesome. We must never speak of its existence again.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – You’ve given eyesight to the blind here! I can’t believe I’ve never caught the fact that Peter Schilling was not merely content to rip off David Bowie, but also New Order! It’s so obvious now [I’ve been such a bloody fool!], but I guess that sort of thing can sneak by me when I pay virtually no attention to something over a period of decades. As indeed was the case with Herr Schilling. Does he have any other singles we can play this game with?

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      • Taffy says:

        well…this one and Major Tom (Coming Home) are the only two singles of his I am familiar with. I do own the Error In The System album, but haven’t played it in forever. Can’t imagine why! :)
        what can I say – I love New Order enough to appreciate New Order rip-offs.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Taffy – Sometimes, the ripoff can transcend the original. As a non-Fan of The Smiths, I really got a huge charge out of Soho enlisting Johnny Marr to replicate the “How Soon Is Now” riff on “Hippy Chick!” And when it got played in clubs, I wouldn’t need to take a disco break – a real plus! Another thrill was the palpable sense of disappointment that Smiths fans would exude a bar or two in where savvy listeners would know that the jig was up.

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          • Taffy says:

            evil monk, getting off on Smiths-fans sadness. I, for one, love How Soon Is Now and Hippy Chick, so it was a win/win situation for me.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Taffy – That is wicked of me. You’re so right, but as a vocal member of the anti Smiths minority, I reveled in it any way. Besides, I’m a classically conflicted member of the anti-Smiths brigade. I’ll argue all day long that as a songwriter, [albeit with Marr by his side], Morrissey was a genius, judging by the great Smiths covers that I’ve come to love.

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