Depeche Mode – Remixes 2: 81-11

(I wrote this review over a decade ago, in May of 2011, when this Depeche Mode compilation was first released. I’m starting to carry over reviews I’ve done for other sites and companies so I can keep them compiled under my own site.)

If ever a band lent itself to the art of the remix it undoubtedly is Depeche Mode. Since the band’s inception 30 years ago, remixes have been a part of their brand, and while Puff Daddy, (or P. Diddy, or whatever Sean Combs calls himself these days) will strut around and claim they “invented the remix”, Depeche can calmly sit back and laugh at the impostors. It’s been seven years since the last remix compilation from the Mode, and while that may not seem like enough time to elapse between releases, “81-11” proves that the band not only have more original remixes left in their archive to be remastered, but that newer acts are more than ready to lend a hand in re-imagining lost classics.

Of the three discs offered here, disc one is the biggest disappointment. The mixes are all previously released except the Stargate Remix of “Personal Jesus”. When you consider that this mix was released a few months ago as a single to promote this set you really aren’t getting anything new at all with this disc. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with this, but most hardcore Depeche fans are going to own these mixes anyway. When you also factor that the hardcore fans will most likely pick up this 3 disc set, you’re more or less buying a disc that will never get played. Most confoundedly, the Orb mix of “Happiest Girl” is included here which is also included in the three disc set from seven years ago. Slightly annoying that the band wouldn’t care to notice this, but it is a great mix, so not a huge complaint.

Disc 2 digs a little deeper in finding some older, stranger mixes while still offering up some newer tracks. The Death Mix of “Fly On The Windscreen” was always one of the most odd Depeche mixes, and it’s inclusion here is very welcome. This mix drops the beats and focuses on twisting and distorting the vocals which certainly proves that Depeche was taking the art of remixing to a different level way back in 1985. The inclusion of the edited remix of “Higher Love” on disc 2 is the only head scratcher on this collection. There is more than enough room on the disc for the full eight minute version, so why they felt an edit was necessary is perplexing. A shame, too, as it’s one of their better remixes over the years.

Without question, though, disc 3 is the reason to purchase this set. As with the collection from 2004, disc 3 is the disc that contains all new remixes never before released (sort of). The two mixes of Personal Jesus on disc 3 were previously available on the remixed single from a few months back, and while this track has been remixed to death over the past 20 years, these interpretations are quite strong. The Alex Metric mix is the better of the two, amping up the energy to the nth degree, and showcasing some impressive production techniques to give the song some relevance in the 21st century.

The Eric Prydz mix of “Never Let Me Down Again” is also surprisingly good. This is a song that is better left alone and stands in a rare category of “don’t ruin what’s already perfect”, but he manages to conjure up some special love in this mix. Prydz more or less eliminates the vocals and focuses on looping the guitar hook which results in a dance floor monster paying proper respect to the original.

Karlsson and Windberg remix two tracks, “When The Body Speaks” and “Tora Tora Tora”. The former mix is a bit uninspired with it’s four to the four groove and barely deviating progressions, while the latter mix dangerously teeters on a tightrope of cheese-trance and euro-trash. While these are probably the two least effective mixes on the disc, one has to admire the effort to remix songs that don’t typically get remixed in the Depeche Mode catalog.

Clark’s remix of “Freestate” sounds just like most Clark songs with its glitch-beat hip-hop meanderings. Like the K&W mixes, it doesn’t work perfectly, but it’s refreshing to hear a different version of an unorthodox song that’s never been remixed before.

Roland M. Dill’s mix of “I Want It All” is a standard four-to-the-floor dance mix that works fine but isn’t going to overly impress anyone, while Joebot’s “Question Of Time” version is another all too trancey affair that comes very close to being unlistenable. “Question Of Time” is one of those tracks that’s always been begging to be remixed but for some reason hasn’t been noticed too much over the years. Unfortunately, Joebot isn’t able to do much with it here.

The remaining four mixes on this set are outstanding in every way, and really showcase not only how powerful remixing can be, but how infinitely interesting Depeche Mode is.

Claro Intelecto’s Mark Stewart is mostly known as a dub/house master whose productions on albums such as “Neurofibro” showcase a keen ear for the intricacies of electronics. His beats are usually deep and soulful, yet his remix of “Leave In Silence” yields remarkable constraint. What has always been known as a straight forward dance track is turned into an emotional mood piece with particular attention paid to Dave Gahan’s vocal. Stewart’s version emerges as a slightly ambient take that would stand up on its own on a new Depeche album. A very special track.

Unsurprisingly, Royksopp steps up with their remix of “Puppets” and knocks it out of the park. “Puppets” isn’t really a Depeche song that you think of being remixed, but Royksopp not only moulds the track into an incredibly catchy and modern pop song, but I have no doubt that, if promoted properly, this song could be a top 40 hit. It’s a rare instance where a band is able to better the original, and expose all of its strengths to make it more powerful. You can tell that Royksopp are huge fans of Depeche Mode with the love and care they give this mix, and it’s obvious they are not just going through the motions of record company deadlines. Royksopp is known for their top notch remixes, and this is their very best.

Perhaps of most interest in this set is the anticipation of Depeche Mode bringing in its former members to do new remixes of songs that were made after their departures. The results that Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder come up with are some of Depeche Mode’s finer remixes to date.

Clarke takes on “Behind The Wheel”, and while he isn’t known for mixing it up too much, he still manages to squeeze an excellent minimal techno version of the song. More Kompakt than Erasure, Clarke’s mix is darkly funky with an echoed vocal sample floating in and out, and a purposeful avoidance of tackling the more melodic aspects of “Behind The Wheel”. This is another song that has been remixed a ton, but Clarke is able to cooly deliver the best “BTW” remix to date.

The standout mix on this collection is Wilder’s version of “In Chains”. Wilder doesn’t so much remix this track as he does disassemble it, reconstruct it, then show it off to his former band mates. Wilder proves what a huge part of the band he was, and his take on “In Chains” manages to be more Depeche Mode than Depeche Mode. Those who loved the “Violator” and “Songs Of Faith And Devotion” years will find plenty to love with this mix as Wilder weaves his Recoil roots into the sound, but also gives it that impeccable production that he bled into those aforementioned albums. The mix is a builder, vocals intensifying, while at the same time making it more danceable. Wilder never loses the listener’s attention for over seven minutes before he quickly fades away into the ether. Wilder makes a serious statement with this production, and Depeche Mode must be thinking what could have been if he had stuck around.

Depeche Mode is an exceedingly rare commodity in the world of music. They have always dedicated themselves to new sounds and methods, and with this philosophy continue to influence countless young bands. This group  begs to be remixed, re-examined, re-invented, rethought. “81-11” isn’t perfect, and showcases several failed attempts at reinvigorating the music. However, DM has shone through their adventures in experimentation, while allowing others to join with their dedication in the same ideals and spirit. Collections such as these illustrate an exciting testament to one of the most influential and fascinating bands of the last half-century. 

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