What does it sound like?:
Some acts are quintessentially English: Cliff,The Kinks, The Small Faces, Soft Machine, Slade, Iron Maiden, Squeeze, Ian Dury, XTC, The Jam, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, Pulp, St. Etienne to name a few. To that list I’d add The Cure. Their Englishness is best represented by the band’s idiosyncrasy at both a musical and a visual level; a kaleidoscopic pop art band whose musical fantasia can as easily rock out a large festival crowd as soundtrack a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. From the late 70s until the end of the 80s Robert Smith and his cohorts created a unique (sight and) sound across 8 studio albums and 1 live album that both troubled the charts and charted the troubles of Smith’s fractured psyche. Collectively The Cure reimagined rock and pop music as a gothic carnival of contrasting neon lights and ominous darkened corners with at least something in the sensory spectrum to please some of the people some of the time; music that could perhaps evoke the Freudian scares of a haunted house or the thrilling dizziness of a wurltizer ride or even the youthful headrush and adolescent fumbles accompanying a ride through the tunnel of love. They were a band who in one month could put out a single that appealed as equally to the Smash Hits reader as the Melody Maker devotee and then release a subsequent single that confused the hell out of both. Visually they looked like forerunners of nu metal but sonically they covered everything from post-punk and gothic rock to synth pop and cabaret with never a hint of irony. If there was a pattern to The Cure’s sound and progression it was a willingness to take their music and lyrics into the dark corners behind and beneath life’s stage just far enough and for just long enough to unsettle the listener before whisking them off to dance and giggle in the full glare of those carnival lights.
The original Mixed Up was released in 1990 as a double LP of 12 tracks (11 on the CD due to the then 74′ time limit excluding the remix of ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’) and this now makes up Disc 1 of the re-release. Even back then Mixed Up was more than a straight-forward remix album with Robert Smith choosing to re-record tracks such as ‘A Forest’ and ‘The Walk’ after their master tapes couldn’t be found. At the time I found the album very hit and miss, unable to always adjust my ears and brain to the change of pace, mood and arrangement that the remix of a song delivered compared to its (perhaps overly) familar original. Listening today to the remastered Mixed Up Disc 1 I’m pleased to discover that with the value of hindsight there is a definite method to be discerned in the modify-the-music madness and that variety really is the spice of life when it comes to appreciating The Cure’s modus operandi. Normally I’m resistent to reminiscing about a band’s past glories but hearing these tracks again I find myself enjoying the memories they evoke. The strength of the original Mixed Up collection was the versatility of each song to submit to being pulled, stretched and bent into different shapes whilst still remaining unmistakebly a Cure song at its core. Nearly 30 years on, Disc 1 now serves as a historical snapshot of both the art of crafting memorable 80s pop and rock and the art of fashioning the 80s remix as a bold musical statement in its own right. There’s even a sense of the 90s dance music scene with the Shiver Mix of ‘In Between Days’ sounding like an early Underworld track. The remastering has brought a vitality to the remixes, simultaneously bolstering the bass and beats whilst adding a freshness and clarity to the melodies and vocals. There is a richness and depth and at times a subtle nuance to the remixes that weren’t so easy to hear first time around. Where before Mixed Up sounded patchy it now sounds seamless and revelatory. As with all good Cure records there is something for everyone but this time it sounds like Disc 1 could please some of the people – like myself – all of the time.
Mixed Up Mark 2 contains 2 extra discs of music. Disc 2 collects yet more of the songs remixed during the band’s first decade but it’s Disc 3 that Cure completists will find the most intriguing and wallet emptying. Disc 3 is a brand spanking new collection of remixes and revamps that Robert Smith tentatively started putting together in the summer of 2017. The remix set on Disc 3 lifts a track from each of The Cure’s legacy of studio albums, from 1979’s ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ to 2008’s ‘4:13 Dream’, as well as 3 more tracks from its 1983 singles collection ‘Japanese Whispers’, 2001’s ‘Greatest Hits’ collection and – in a cheeky act of meta marketing – a new remix of ‘Never Enough’, the extended version that was previously only available on the original Mixed Up. Smith has also chosen to focus predominantly on album tracks so the disc gives further insight insight into where Smith’s head is currently in terms of his sonic palette and musical preferences. It’s a fantastic effort on his part. As with the original Mixed Up he’s once again prised open the songs and crafted something both fresh and redolent of The Cure’s adventurous musical spirit. If there is a theme to the remixes on Disc 3 it is Smith’s focus on drawing out a song’s less familar motifs. ‘Shake Dog Shake’, a track that originally sounded like an exercise in relentless sonic pile driving, now becomes something far more experimental without losing the dramatic flourishes of the original’s rhythms. The elegiac and epic ‘Plainsong’ is now a more intimate and personal song (as if Robin Guthrie had covered it) which serves to underline the simple beauty at its heart. ‘Lost’ sounds concussed and even more lost by emphasising the desperate paranoia of Smith’s voice and lyrics.
As a whole Mixed Up 2018 is a welcome reminder of the romantic creativity that propels Smith and The Cure. More significantly it’s made me want to go back to their albums from the 90s and 00s as I’ve never given them as much time and thought as I did their 80s albums. That said if you’re looking for some kind of purity or authenticity in your music then this won’t persuade you to listen to Mixed Up but if, like me, you bought 12″ remixes as eagerly as you bought albums throughout the 80s and early 90s then you’ll appreciate the unique atmosphere and listening pleasure a collection like this generates.
What does it all *mean*?
For any ailment there’s often a cure.
Goes well with…
…words like ‘smorgasbord’ and Liquorice Allsorts
Might suit people who like…
…a smorgasbord of liquorice flavoured sweets.