Review. Added November 21 2004. Last changed: November 23 2004.
Various Artists: Produced By Trevor Horn. Review.
The two-cd album comes in a very stylish folder held in a dark-blueish color design (... a little bit like this site, but but then everything at ZTT is blue...).
The first strikingly innovative feature is the labeling of the two disks:
“L” and “R” - A subtle hint that if you want to be a good producer you should always record in stereo. Just kidding.
On the outer sleeves there is a subliminal message written in mirrored writing. An in depth analysis of the strange signs by leading cryptologists and psychoanalysts led to the conclusion that is means “We can't rewind”.
Now, this is a tough one: With this well hidden message Trevor Horn probably tries to warn everybody who is thinking about going into the music-production business that the biggest nightmare, the nightmare that lets you jump out off your sleep at night, is the always returning vision of the missing rewind button on your tape recorder! No producer could ever survive without the ability to rewind and re-record takes that went wrong. (Or, in the case of Trevor “the knife” Horn, takes that weren't 110 percent perfect!) This vision is so scary that it could only be printed in reverse writing.
But maybe that's an over-interpretation, maybe “we can't rewind” has to be seen in the context with the clearly written “we've gone too far” on the right hand sleeve – a quote of course from Video Killed The Radio Star!
Okay, enough nonsense – on to:
The Sleeve Notes
Even if you know all the songs on the two CDs, there is a nice feature. Besides some interesting excerpts from a recent Trevor Horn interview, there are comments by the master for every song. Some are technical, some are anecdotal or outright funny (Quote about Frankie Goes To Hollowood's “Relax”: “I laboured constantly under the impression that he was singing 'When you want to SOCK it to it.'”)
Also, there are various pictures of Trevor Horn showing him at different stages of life – with different sets of glasses.
The biggest problem for those responsible for the album probably was to decide what to put in, and what to leave out. Who should buy the album? Astute Trevor Horn fans would have most of the featured songs - in a ton of different mixes. Someone without a particular interest in producers needs to have a good time just listening. And is is the latter customer who, I think, is the main target for the album. This explains the play order on the recording which is not chronological but jumps more or less gently between quite different kinds of songs and artists.
The sound qualtiy is excellent. All songs have been remastered and processed. Most strikingly this can be heard on “Video Killed The Radio Star”: All the hiss of the old recording is gone, the sound is crystal clear and very state-of-the-art - and thus reveals how timeless a production this really is.
Timelessness is the nexus between all the songs. While some hit records are clearly records of their time, none of the songs on this album sound like they are twenty years or older! Bear in mind that they were all remastered, but not remixed or re-recorded.
With a few exceptions all songs on the album are the well spread album or single versions. Read on about differences!
Disc: L – Total Playing Time: 75'36”
1. Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star – 1979 – 4'13”
Not much to say about this song – the first video ever played on MTV and Trevor Horn's only “own” hit. However, the remastered version sounds so great that I at first thought it was a contemporary re-recording. But when I compared it to my original 'Age Of Plastic' album, it was clear that is is indeed a record from 1979! Trevor Horn's comment on the band's name by the way: “For a kick-off, it was a stupid name!”
2. ABC – Poison Arrow – 1982 – 3'22”
Also the original album version, remastered.
3. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax – 1983 – 3'57”
The true classic – me say no more. Except, thinking about Trevor Horn's own rediscovery of the 12 inch that is connected with the seven-minute New York Mix of Relax (see under ZTT for details) it would have been nice to see that awesome mix on this compilation. But then this CD is at its maximum capacity already.
4. LeAnn Rimes – Can’t Fight The Moonlight – 2000 – 3'36”
This song kind of passed me by. A pretty, young country singer with a very “Southern” and dominant voice accompanied by a nice arrangement just seemed too far away from Holly Johnson and Grace Jones. However, upon closer listening the song does reveal a level of quality that stands out among other mainstream-commercial-vocal-hits and, from a technical point of view, it does not fall behind the other Horn productions. My guess is that this song was included for two reasons: First it is clearly more mainstream-compatible than the other songs and thus might help to increase the sales of this album. Secondly, it can be seen as representative for a part of the 1990s when Trevor Horn started to focus more on singers, resulting in rather conservative productions like Tina Turner, Rod Steward, Paul McCartney and Eros Ramazotti.
5. Pet Shop Boys – Left To My Own Devices – 1988 – 4'47”
Part One of what I would like to call the “Trevor Goes To The Orchestra Pit” series on the album. One of the most distinguishing features of many Horn productions is the almost decadent use of a whole symphonic orchestra for backings, as well as short elements and overdubs. In this song, the orchestra helps to underline the ironic decadent tone of th lyrics.
'Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat' is the key phrase in the hilarious lyrics of Neil Tennant. While listening, I pictured a sweaty doped-up conductor in the pit trying frantically to acoustically execute a tired and bored looking Neil Tennant sitting in a lounge chair on the stage while Trevor Horn lies on the floor behind the recording console laughing like mad. Ah well...
6. Dollar – Give Me Back My Heart – 1982 – 5'01”
Dollar still has some fans around. Today, this sounds a little bit like “Air” and the likes. The influence of Trevor Horn's studio crew aka “The Art Of Noise” is clearly hearable. The then retroesque sound is nouveau retro today - if you know what I mean...
7. Seal – Crazy – 1990 - 4'30”
Unfortunately this is the short album version from the first release. I would have loved to finally hear something like a “Blooded” version (see below under Grace Jones) with a long instrumental part – for this song is one of my all time favorites when it comes to the instrumental arrangement, which sounds very sequenced and pattern-oriented and yet creates a unique soundscape with an incredible depth to get lost in...
8. Lisa Stansfield – Say It To Me Now – 2004 – 4'47”
Lisa Stansfield has a great voice and is Trevor Horn's most recent signing – but commercially not performing as hoped. Some blame ZTT for a lack of promotion. The song is clearly a singer-song aimed at a wide mainstream audience with a very solid and classy instrumental backing that apart from some bass and guitar overdubs behaves very politely towards the star. No surprises here.
9. Shane MacGowan – You’re The One – 1995 – 3'56”
Beautifully ...strange. Shane MacGowan indeed makes this song ...different. The orchestral backing sound a little like Trevor Horn's soundtrack for the movie “Toys” - music clearly missing on this album, I think.
10. Godley and Crème – Cry – 1985 – 3'56”
According to the liner notes this song was written in 1960. Recorded in 1985 and remastered in 2004 it sounds like all that was yesterday. Makes me wanna cry. Very powerful, brilliantly remastered, one of the highligts.
11. Art Of Noise – Il Pleure (At The Turn Of The Century) – 1999 – 8'01”
The Art Of Noise was Trevor Horn's studio crew on auto-pilot – one night, in the dungeons of Sarm West all those then nameless engineers and studio musicians together with their wonderous machines sprang to life and started to make noise... 17 years later they came together again to make a comeback. The result was the album 'The Seduction Of Claud Debussy”. In my opinion that album's strength shows itself as a concept. “Il Pleure” is a nice showcase of creative sounddesign and modern recording technology. As an eight minute “song” on this compilation, I think, it does not work too well because it is torn out of context. Maybe those precious minutes could have been better spent. On the other hand, “Il pleure” was probably included for the obvious reason that it marked the return of the Art Of Noise.
12. Buggles – Living In The Plastic Age – 1979 – 5'10”
Funny song that more than others reflects the time it was written. Probably one of the more personal projects by Trevor Horn and thus included here. Also, there are of course many Buggles fans still around.
13. Dollar – Mirror Mirror – 1981 – 3'30”
Many people consider Dollar to be an underrated band that disappeared into obscurity way too soon. Probably one of the reasons for the inclusion of a second Dollar song on this compilation. Sounds more 'aged' than most other songs on the compilation.
14. Spandau Ballet – Instinction – 1981 – 3'38”
According to the liner notes this was one of the first remixes Trevor Horn made. He “cut it around and overdubbed it to try to help Spandau”.
15. The Frames – Angel At My Table – 1996 – 3'48”
A dramatic song with an independent feel, hard to believe that this was produced by Trevor Horn. Glen Hansard who wrote this song also wrote Lisa Stansfield's “Say It To Me Now”.
16. Simple Minds – Mandela Day – 1989 – 5'41”
Another classic, done in a single day according to the liner notes.
17. taTu – All The Things She Said – 2003 – 3'35”
Love it or hate it. In the booklet Trevor Horn is quoted saying “...you've got to do those if you're going to survive.”
Disc: R Total Playing Time: 71'47”
1. Yes – Owner Of A Lonely Heart – 1983 – 4'26”
In the dictionary under the word “timeless” you will find Yes – “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. Some obscure pop-music historian once wrote that “Owner” was the first song to use a sampled and looped drum beat. This “rock-song” was sliced, processed and neatly reconstructed in a clean smoke-free sound laboratory...
2. Art Of Noise – Beat Box (Diversion) – 1984 - 4'08”
The studio crew on auto-pilot again – Beat Box with the name being the program of the song. The first of its kind and still somewhat over the edge. There are tons of versions of this song out there. This is one of the more common.
3. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes (Hibakusha Mix) – 1984 – 6'35”
Some fans consider this the best of the many original Frankie Goes To Hollywood remixes. Very violent. Rather rare until it was re-released a few years ago. Trevor Horn: “The second single is always the biggest nightmare but it was nine weeks at No 1.” One of the earliest incarnations of the Orchestra Hit.
4. ABC – Look Of Love (Part One) – 1982 – 3'28”
Nice to hear this classic remastered.
5. Pet Shop Boys – It’s Alright – 1989 – 4'20”
The warmth of the sound and the positive vibes underscore the irony of the lyrics, a parody of naive feel-good-be-happy songs. Funny.
6. Grace Jones – Slave To The Rhythm – 1985 – 8'27”
If I had to name one song as the greatest of all time it would be this one! Seriously. STTR comes in the glorious “Blooded” version: The instrumental version followed by the whole song with the voice of Grace Jones:
Trevor Goes To The Orchestra Pit... and drags Steve Lipson and his guitar down with him – at its finest. This song alone would make this compilation worth the price. An absolute must. More than other songs it shows that in so called pop-music there aren't any boundaries and no-nos as long as the result sounds great. Half a dozen layered guitars fighting with a whole orchestra against a crazy car-eating Grace Jones – awesome.
7. Art Of Noise – Moments In Love (Beaten) – 1983 – 7'01”
Everybody has probably heard parts of that song in some movie or commercial. The sleeve notes simply quote Trevor Horn: “It really seems to have been a big winner over the years, the number of places it's popped up. It's been a survivor.”
8. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – The Power Of Love – 1984 – 5'31”
Another classic that almost sounds too cheesy – if it wasn't for the voice of Holly Johnson and the bridge. Very well behaving orchestra.
9. Simple Minds – Belfast Child – 1989 – 6'41”
On German television an excerpt from this song is played before every football match to promote a beer brand, and I always think: Must have been a great producer who did that, cheers!
10. Seal – Loneliest Star – 2003 – 4'06”
Nice to find one of the lesser known gems from Seal on this album. Showing once again two trademarks of Trevor Horn: tons of layered guitars and a symphonic orchestra sparring with a great voice.
11. Propaganda – Das Testament des Dr Mabuse (13th Life Mix) – 1984 – 6'32”
Last (re-)released on Propaganda's Outside World CD/DVD compilation this song though not Propaganda's biggest hit marked one of the prototype recordings of dark-synthesizer-pop that outlived the 1980s. Trevor Horn: “I'm very fond of that record.”
12. Malcolm McLaren – Buffalo Gals (Scratch Mix) – 1982 – 5'07”
A strange record. Clearly influenced by Kraftwerk and setting the stage for Herbie Hancocks “Future Shock” album (“Rock It”). Of course clearly done by the Art Of Noise crew, who, just like Herbie Hancock can be identified as followers of Claude Debussy. But enough of that.
13. ABC – All Of My Heart – 1982 – 5'19”
Like the other ABC songs, this song works as a smoothing element between the sometimes edgy songs on this compilation. Furthermore it marks as nice an pleasant ending with a dramatic and Londonesque topping.
Produced by Trevor Horn is a record everybody who is interested in high-quality pop-music should have. Even if you are not fond of many of the featured artists, the songs included in the compilation stand for themselves. In addition to the timeless quality of the musical arrangements and production, the sound quality is excellent thanks to a brilliant remastering process.
In times where "Best of the 80s, 90.." -compilations and -radio stations flood the market, this album is a different approach. Yet, in my opinion, it achieves the goal much more elegantly: It gives the listnener an overview of 25 years of pop history without actually sounding aged or nostalgic!
Furthermore, for those with an ear for the finer detail, the compilation allows an insight into Trevor Horn's production techniques: the different use of guitars and symphonic orchestras, the way the instrumental arrangement sometimes playfully seems to fight, sometimes to support the voice of the singer.
On a critical note, it can certainly be debated whether the selection of songs was the best possible. Some listeners might have wanted to have more rare versions instead of still available album versions. Also, some artists are missing completely while others that are relatively obscure (Dollar, no offense...) are featured twice. Three songs by ABC, two by Seal, but Frankie's "Welcome To The Pleasuredome" (with its legendary violent yet smoothly harmonic guitar/bass arrangement - Trevor Horn at his best!) missing. Music for films is completely missing. Especially the soundtrack for the movie "Toys" had some unique songs that would have suited this compilation well. One could debate for hours.
However, even though there might be some shortcomings that are probably due to commercial considerations, all songs that are included reveal the link between all Horn productions, wether you love or loath the artist: pure and very musical excellence.
The record is only availble in stores in the U.K. However, international buyers can get it over the ZTT shop at www.ztt.com and of course through other online retailers. Music and Technology Section.
Catalogue Number: ZTT196CD
Copyright for this review 2004 Christoph Röckerath. Copyright for all quotes and images 2004 ZTT - used with permission.
Copyright © 1995-2005 Christoph Röckerath, Germany.