Remember, like, 20 years ago, when remix albums were cool? Starting with Madonna’s You Can Dance in 1987, just about every major pop artist put out an album of dance remixes of their biggest hits. There was Phil Collins’ 12″ers, Bobby Brown’s Dance…Ya Know It!, Paula Abdul’s Shut Up and…OK, I think you get the picture.
While most of the aforementioned albums are listenable, there’s not much in the way of lasting value. However, Maroon 5 is setting out to change that long-standing perception of remix albums with Call & Response. The pop/rock/soul hybrid (fronted by nasally-voiced seductor Adam Levine) collected a team of producers as eclectic as the band itself, spanning the genres from hip-hop to indie rock to dance music, and asked them to tackle selections from the band’s two studio albums. The results are varied, but there definitely more interesting experiments here than there are failures.
The sleazy If I Never See Your Face Again (which is great in it’s original Prince/Talking Heads-esque original version) gets a double makeover. Paul Oakenfold turns the song into a twirling house anthem that retains the sexual tension between Levine and guest vocalist Rihanna (also proving to me that I can deal with modern dance music as long as there’s vocals and melody involved) while Swizz Beatz turns it into a hip-hop party anthem, sampling (and keeping fresh) the well-worn Take Me to the Mardi Gras beat (which you may recognize as Run-DMC’s Peter Piper). Both versions work, as does Mark Ronson’s sinister remix of Wake Up Call. The Amy Winehouse producer gives the original version some extra tension by adding a guest vocal from Mary J. Blige. Guestlove smooths out Sunday Morning so that it sounds like Sunday Morning. You can picture yourself taking a lazy drive to nowhere with this song in the background.
Strangely for a remix album, the slower songs work best in their new versions. Deerhoof turns the arena ballad Goodnight Goodnight into a weird indie rock/electro hybrid-kinda like The Postal Service meets Death Cab for Cutie (obviously with Levine standing in for Ben Gibbard). DJ Premier handles the slinky Secret, and even with turntable scratches and a typically thumping hip-hop beat, the song loses none of its’ seductive quality. Even songs I didn’t like originally (or grew to dislike after extensive plays) regain their flavor. DJ Quik turns Shiver into a greasy funk workout, while The Neptunes’ (who have restored some goodwill to their name over the past two days) turn the pedestrian pop ballad She Will Be Loved into another one of their hazy synthesizer jams they’ve become famous for.
Certain matchups, however, just don’t work. The funky Makes Me Wonder gets slowed down dramatically by Just Blaze (whose work is usually flawless) and the lowered tempo and piano intro (which sounds like the theme from “The Young and the Restless”) just doesn’t work against the song’s cocky lyrics. Another one you might wanna skip is the Cool Kids’ remix of Harder to Breathe, which sports a plodding, murky musical background. I’m still on the fence about David Banner’s 808-heavy remix of Wake Up Call, but the more I listen, the more I like-well, except for Banner’s unnecessary guest verse.
I dig this album quite a bit, but then again I’m a Maroon 5 fan. If you’re just discovering the band, this is obviously not the place you wanna start. However, if you’re one of those folks with eclectic musical tastes and don’t mind a little hip-hop mixed in with your pop/rock, with a little hi-NRG dance thrown in (and a little sprinkling of indie goodness), then you might want to give Call & Response a shot.