SYNTAX ERA - Remix64 vol. 3
This SID remix album completes a full circle, or rather, a triangle that was started with the first Remix64 album which ultimately spawned a trilogy. Like the very first one, this is also done in the style of popular 80's tunes, and like the second one in the trilogy with its semi-orchestral fantasy theme which I am very fond of, this one is also rather impressive, if at times a bit awkward.
Since the album is available exclusively on C64audio.com, buyers can get instant access to DRM-free high-quality digital versions of its tracks before the physical CD arrives into their mailboxes, which I think is fantastic.
Once it arrives, take the CD into your hands and you can't mistake it for anything else: it has the stereotypical object of the 80s, a Rubik's Cube on its cover with a Commodore 64 screen in the background. Message accomplished!
As for the content of the album, the individual tracks here were all done with very specific 80s tunes in mind. At times I do question the choices - I think there are "better" pieces of music made in the 80s that define that era much better. On the first Remix64 album the musicians more or less had free reign to do anything with the original SID tunes as long as they kept to the spirit of the 80s. That provided for some very interesting pieces of music. But the "restrictions" imposed on vol. 3 are what seem to stifle it in a few cases, which is ironic considering that the original tunes themselves were composed with some very tough restrictions imposed by the SID chip itself. There this spawned creativity, here it spawned some awkwardness.
That awkwardness immediately surfaces with the first tune, "BMX Kidz" by Thomas Detert, in the style of Paul Hardcastle's "19". I expected a lot more quick and hard-hitting facts about the C64 in the form of voiceovers, like in Hardcastle's tune - there's hardly any here, what's there is very cheezy and I found that disappointing. Even the groove of this remix - which drives "19" - seems to be a bit weak here, like it was a rushed job by Detert. This track could've provided a bombastic tour-de-force opening to the album, but alas, it doesn't.
Next up is "Jethro Walrus" by Makke in the style of Depeche Mode. Here the styles don't clash at all and it has a nice flow to it which is enhanced by Makke's signature lyrics. However, having heard better remixes by him on remix.kwed.org (RKO), I feel this not living up to Makke's full potential.
We are back to awkwardness with the third track, "Comic Bakery" by Ziphoid. The remix, and especially the intro of it, is a spot-on replica of "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister, but that's probably its downfall, too, since the melody line of "Comic Bakery" over that feels out of place and forced upon. Ziphoid made the best he could with the material, the remix is definitely produced at a professional level, but artistically the two tunes just do not gel together well.
Much unlike "Flight Path 737" by Boz (featuring Hayley) in the style of "Moments In Love", which is pure genius: it's spot on with the style and the SID is blended into it so naturally that Art of Noise could've composed this track themselves. It's not trying to be either piece, yet it is both at the same time. Even the replacement for the "moments in love" vocal line was perfectly chosen.
The fifth track, "Ghoul'n Ghosts" by Binster in the style of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is another great musical cocktail with a smooth blend of SID and 80s pop tune. Hey, this album is finally getting good!
I think "Why Me" by Moog supposedly in the style of Herbie Hancock is a bit of a misnomer: it's in the style of Moog, which got relabeled as Herbie Hancock for the purposes of this album, or at least that's how it feels to me. It is a funky-groovy remix for sure, has a great feeling to it, but it's a bit lacking on the production side and the chosen SID - previously unknown to me - feels a bit out of place on this album since most of the other SIDs are considered classic tunes by fans.
"Gem'X" by Skitz in the style of Milli Vanilli's "Girl You Know It's True" is a solid rendition of both tunes, if a little unsurprising. Which, I guess, is a testament to how natural this remix feels.
"Formula 1 Simulator" by LMan (featuring Boz) in the style of "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood is another solid blend of the 80's original plus the original SID, although it feels a little less bombastic. But at least it also features Hubbard himself which is a nice touch.
Then we have "Tusker" by Romeo Knight and ifadeo (featuring Slaygon) in the style of "Sisters of Mercy" by Black Planet. Great lyrics and singing (in a voice very similar to the one in the Black Planet tune) characterize this remix which feels just a bit too long, probably because I never liked the 80s original to begin with. However, the blend of 80s and SID is very seamless here.
"Sanxion" by Tron in the style of Donna Summers' "I Feel Love" is right on the money, it's a great, great rendition of both classics in one. It's definitely one of the best remixes of Sanxion I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot).
For the next track, "Crazy Comets" by Sonic Wanderer, Laserdance was an obvious choice. It is rendered pretty well here, it's powerful, it's energetic, Sonic Wanderer even went a little crazy and included some other well-known melody in there, too. However, I think his "BITLite Invintro" mix of the same SID available on RKO captures this style a bit better, especially its chorus part.
"Arkanoid" by Tron replicates "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash perfectly and it has the Arkanoid theme interwoven into it like fine silk. The only thing missing is the actual rapping on top of it.
Next up there's a very unexpected pairing of 80s tunes with a SID: "ACE II" by Makke & Sonic Wanderer in the style of "Strangelove" by Depeche Mode. It's more of the latter than the former and where the original SID does appear, it feels a bit forced upon. One would think that almost anything from the hit 80s soundtrack of the movie "Top Gun" would've worked better for "ACE II", but Makke and Sonic Wanderer did a great job of making this unusual mixture to work, especially with the lyrics and the singing. Kudos to them for trying something different!
"Blackmail" by PowerTrace & Chris Abbott is a powerful and bombastic rendition of the SID tune in the style of Black Box and disco. It's very similar to the "HardCopy" mix found in RKO, except it's more refined here and not quite as edgy with added vocals. Personally, I prefer the more in-your-face RKO version, but that's nitpicking - both are excellent remixes.
Technically, The Shamen's "Move Any Mountain" was already in the 90s, so the "Dominator" remix in its style by Tonka (featuring Makke) is a bit out of the chronological time frame of the album. If we let that slide, this remix reveals itself as a faithful copy of The Shamen's hit with a generous amount of SID sounds thrown in there from Matt Gray's tune. Yet again, the lyrics and the singing by Makke are spot on both in style and in substance.
Romeo Knight provides an excellent rendition of "Aspar Grand Prix" featuring P. Feiter in the style of Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy", although this one is more of the former than the latter. It is one of my favorite tracks on the album with its bouncy, totally 80s pop feeling combined with some excellent lyrics and singing.
There's also a very nice bonus track on this album: it's a SID rendition of Yazoo's "Only You" by Monotron. The entire tune is lovingly crafted and is a very nice touch to close the album with it.
Frankly, when I first listened to the album, I wasn't that impressed with it. But when I listened to the original 80s tunes and their "replicants" here back-to-back, it really became clear to me how much effort and ingenious sound recreation went into every piece on this album. You can't appreciate that unless you take the time to listen to the originals.
All in all, this album represents an ambitious effort by all involved. For some tunes the artistic idea behind the album worked better, for others, less so. There are definitely a few really great gems on this album that uninitiated people can even mistake for new tunes made by those 80s bands, but even most of the others will be amongst my favorites for a long time to come.
If you are a fan of 80s music, you will be pleasantly surprised by this album, if you are a fan of SID tunes, you won't be disappointed at all, and if you are a fan of both - then why haven't you bought it, yet?