The remix album. Some cynically see it as a crass cash grab to squeeze a bit more money out of an album’s release (similar to special editions of albums released a year or so after the original version). But the remix album could be a sterling work of art in its own right, if it’s curated well, with innovative musicians and DJs given the freedom to reinterpret songs, adding colors, beats, stretching, and molding tunes, creating new sounds off the creative work of the original artists. In the case of Erasure’s The Neon Remixed, we get a platter of awesome tracks that improve on the already-wonderful songs from the original 2020 album. One of the most important synthpop bands of the past 50 years, Erasure, are particularly suited for the remix treatment. They produce extravagant, over-the-top dance tunes that work as fabulous templates for a DJ to work their magic. The Neon Remixed revamps The Neon as a swirling, camp, queer disco party.
Erasure – made up of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke – have been making music for over 35 years, scoring the 1980s with their synthpop club anthems. Though their peak happened in the 1980s, they have still consistently produced music for their devoted fans. The Neon is the band’s 18th album and was released to positive reviews and solid sales. It was hailed as a return to form, with instrumentalist Clarke reportedly using “the analog synths he’s had since the duo’s earliest days”. For its accompanying remix album, a roster of club DJs and remixers are assembled to rework Neon’s synth-flooded club bangers, retaining the candy-colored pop but also swathing the songs with darker, sexier dance beats.
The remix album opens with a new single, “Secrets”, to entice buyers. It sounds like classic Erasure with rubbery, bouncing beats, thick electric bass, hooky melodies, and Hall’s light, airy vocals. The lyrics are moody and mournful, the kind of ruminative, lovelorn ballad set to a drum machine and synthesizers. The Neon Remixed is bookended by the Octo Octa’s Psychedelic Visions Disco Dub), extending the original four-minute pop song into an epic 14-minute marathon. The pop-friendly vocals are erased, and rave beats and bouncing layered beats compete with video game synths and throbbing electronic bass to create a marvelous workout of 1980s dance-pop clashing riotously with 21st-century club culture. Somewhere in the middle of the record, we also get a remix of “Secrets” by Kim Ann Foxman that injects house and rave into the song.
The original album’s first single, “Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling)” sported gutsy, soulful vocals from Bell that married pop-church affectations with queer ’80s synth-disco. The Hifi Sean Remix retains the structure and the spirit of the original song. Bell’s vocals are processed through studio filters and there are extra loping beats that bump up against Clarke’s original programming. The Hifi Sean Dub replaces Bell’s vocals with acid house scratches, gurgling synthesizers, and sampled voices, ghostly and opaque.
The Neon’s second single, “Nerves of Steel”, is a nostalgic mid-tempo number with Bell crooning over a chilly, synthetic soundscape, his passionate voice breaking through the thick layers of studio gloss and sheen. Andy Bell and Gareth Jones’ Sapphire and Steel Mix adds freestyle beats. Meanwhile, the Gareth Jones’ ElectroGenetic Terabyte of Love Mix strips the song down, shedding some of the gaudiness of Clarke’s original, upping the frostiness. Bell’s voice slowed down and speckled with sonic fuzz saps the tune of the original version’s churchiness. The Neon’s final single, “Fallen Angel” is another patented Erasure tune: emo lyrics, Bell’s plaintive warbling, Clarke’s inventive and luxuriant production. The Saint Remix of “Fallen Angel” injects tribal beats and speeds up the tune into a pulsing raver, that retains some of the original tune’s anthemic feel.
Along with remixing the singles, collaborators were brought on board to rework some of the album cuts, as well. A sweeping, romantic pop ballad like “Kid You’re Not Alone” which sounds like something that would have appeared on a John Hughes teen rom-com soundtrack no longer sounds like it would be played in a prom scene with Molly Ringwold. Instead, it’s turned into an energetic end-of-the-night club tune with the Theo Kottis Remix. The Paul Humphreys remix matches the original song’s ’80s sheen but feels relatively subdued with far less sounds and instrumentation.
The lilting, sprightly “Careful What I Try to Do” is transformed into a fantastic, dramatic trance number with some great laser sound effects, jungle beats, and skittering snatches of drums through the Brixxtone Extended Remix. The moody (relatively) stripped-down piano ballad, “New Horizons” is injected with some muscular beats and is decorated with chunky beats in the Matt Pop Extended Remix. Instead of being a poignant tune, it becomes an animated mid-tempo dance song.
What makes The Neon Remixed so successful as a remix album is that the various artists who signed up to reshape Erasure’s tunes didn’t dissect or vivisect the sturdy compositions of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke to their skeletal origins. The artists only mold them into industrial, deep house workouts. They remained faithful to Erasure’s ebullient pop and indulge in some profound affection and nostalgia for ’80s queer synth-dance pop.