Bigger. Messier. achieves a rare feat. Here, we have a remix album based on Danny Elfman‘s bone-crushingly aggressive 2021 album Big Mess that creates an impact comparable to its parent album. Too often, remix albums are little more than half-hearted attempts to round up some exposure for DJs and keep the primary artist’s name in rotation to keep fans happy. Sometimes these remix collections offer a unique peek at an alternate dimension, and other times they make you wish you were listening to the original thing. Not Bigger. Messier.
By surrendering creative control to a list of artists he trusts, Elfman has thrown the doors wide open to a wild variety of outcomes. With 21 songs spanning an hour-and-a-half, Bigger. Messier. achieves so much more than Big Mess does. Does that make it better? That’s not an easy question to answer. If you think a musically diverse double album bests anything that Big Mess ever had to offer in the first place, then it does. If you have trouble swallowing IDM-laced electronica, industrial, and darkwave variations of a set of Danny Elfman songs that were mighty confrontational in the first place, then the conventional wisdom of remix albums will hold.
If you are unfamiliar with Big Mess, it’s the Danny Elfman album that took many by surprise. A former member of Oingo Boingo, Elfman has spent decades composing music for films and TV shows such as The Simpsons and many different Tim Burton productions, including Batman and Beetlejuice. Leading up to the 2020 Coachella festival that never happened, Elfman had assembled a band to help him premiere two new songs, “Sorry” and “Happy”. Since we all know what happened in 2020, Elfman used the extra time to write more songs in the same vein as “Sorry” and “Happy”. Sixteen more songs tumbled out, giving us a dark pop album overflowing with enough sarcasm and cynicism to give Batman pause. He had traded any trace of Oingo Boingo in his sound for Peter Murphy, combining borderline-metal guitars with theatrical glam.
Critically speaking, Big Mess had struck quite a nerve. There was no unanimous praise – PopMatters’ Chris Conaton found the whole affair exhausting – but the composer had made his mark. For the first time since the disbandment of Oingo Boingo, he was writing uncommissioned songs, and they were striking hard. Elfman’s eventual appearance at Coachella in 2022 drew much kinder press, lavishing, in fact. Having a remix album based on Big Mess merely follows the pattern of delivering the unexpected.
First up, Squarepusher disassembles the morose “We Belong” and reconstructs it as an Aphex Twin, which in no way prepares you for the Little Snake Dying in the Club Edition of “Happy”, where you need to duck your head lest you get hit with a flying piece of the kitchen sink. 33EMYBW’s remix of the same song is even less recognizable. If a halfway musical electronic noise can be produced, it somehow found its way into this remix. By the time Kid606 gets ahold of the thunderous riffs of “Sorry”, things start to resemble the original album a bit more.
But if you thought that the original recording of the aforementioned love ballad “We Belong” was a little on the eerie side, Rafiq Bhatia takes the creep factor and runs with it into a haunted mansion. The remainder of the first record is a littered dancefloor, though the glitter, confetti, and sticky cups come in many sizes, shapes, and temperaments. Boris’ soft twisting of “Everybody Loves You” is largely faithful to Elfman’s original, while Zach Hill’s take on “Kick Me” and Xiu Xiu‘s remix of “Serious Ground” both sound like their gear is on the verge of obstructing the songs. Bigger. Messier. indeed.
The second CD comes with some specialized, for lack of a better word, treats. Trent Reznor records lead vocals for two mixes of “True” and “Native Intelligence” apiece, bringing them out of the ringer, to no one’s surprise, a great deal more industrial. The anti-celebrity rant “Kick Me” features new vocals from Fever333 and Iggy Pop, two artists who approach the frantic track the way a reckless actor would, by taking the sentiment and hurling it way over the lines of good taste. In their mouths, the words “I’m a selfish asshole” are ten times more toxic than Elfman’s delivery. Iggy Pop, in particular, was made for moments such as these.
Boy Harsher‘s 1980s synthpop treatment of “Happy” is almost funny. The original’s sarcastic attitude gets turned on its head with a soft techno beat and catchy keyboard melodies. Whether or not this was ironic is probably not the point, as two tracks away is the same song getting warped from an exorcism performed by Little Snake Lunar Climax. Most notable of all is Einstürzende Neubauten‘s Blixa Bargeld putting his stamp on “In Time”. If the German twist to the song is of limited interest to you, at least try the video created by an AI programmed to project images based on the lyrics. “[D]reamlike and nightmarish at the same time,” states the press release, and I don’t think I can put it more succinctly if I tried.
Bigger. Messier. is less a remix album and more a shockingly impetuous experiment that leaves its source material violently splayed across the landscape. If you found Big Mess to be overwhelming, then Bigger. Messier. will be no fun for you at all. By the same token, if Big Mess fascinates you, this double album will be all the more engaging. By having a bloated roster of people grab hold of the same set of songs and wringing them dry, you are blessed with an abundance of manic depressive music, noise, beats, and cursing. If you think less is more, you’re just going to have to go in search of less.