fri 19/07/2024

Album: Trevor Horn - Echoes: Ancient & Modern | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Trevor Horn - Echoes: Ancient & Modern

Album: Trevor Horn - Echoes: Ancient & Modern

Downtempo cover versions run the gamut from the bland to the excruciating

Look but don't touch

A deathless trend in pop is taking great songs, slowing them down, doing orchestral versions, or rendering them raw acoustic. This, ostensibly, reveals their genius and/or brings them a new audience. Rarely, it can work, as on Johnny Cash’s final albums, but usually it simply renders sonic perfection as bland, naff slop. Such is the case with Trevor Horn’s latest.

Horn is a great and visionary pop producer. He’s also performed in bands, notably his breakthrough group Buggles and prog behemoths Yes. In 2019 he released Reimagines the Eighties, which featured star singers on hits of the relevant decade, accompanied by an orchestra. It was unappealing easy listening pap but made No.11 in the UK album charts. Echoes: Ancient & Modern sees Horn take the same formula to a selection of music he likes, most of it from the Eighties, and including three of his own best-loved productions.

It opens with a piano-led take on Kendrick Lamarr’s relatively new (decade-old) “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, featuring Tori Amos. It might be the most interesting thing on the album. After that, things flop about between the dismal, the pointless and the excruciating. An Americana/Irish reimagining of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, with Andrea Corr, might not offend if used at the end of an appropriate Netflix show. The versions of Horn and Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, sung by Rick Astley, and Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield”, with Marc Almond, are restructured as plodding, dull tropical house of the kind popular 10 years ago.

Beyond that, things grow truly rank. The version of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is a flaccid plastic new wave cringe that Iggy Pop should have known better than to have anything to do with. Toyah’s wanna-be-ambient-dreamy version of one of Horn’s masterpieces, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, is cloying. Horn himself sings on Roxy Music’s “Avalon”, a production redolent of Paul McCartney's notorious Frog Chorus. Worst of all, bottom of the pile, howlingly, astonishingly dreadful, is a vocally posturing, musical theatre-ish take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, featuring Irish singer Luke Jackman.

The great mystery is why Horn is doing this.

Below: Watch Trevor Horn talk about the background of his new version of "Owner of a Lonely Heart", featuring Rick Astley

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