Music

Roxette: A Collection of Roxette Hits

A Collection of Roxette Hits is what it is, it does its job just fine, and if you buy it, you know pretty much exactly what you're getting into.


Roxette

A Collection of Roxette Hits

Subtitle: Their 20 Greatest Songs!
Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2006-10-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Pop music was in a bit of a strange place when the '80s turned into the '90s. New wave was old news, Seattle was barely a blip on anyone's radar, rock songs were judged by hair length, and Madonna and Janet Jackson were, like, the biggest things ever. Those last two artists especially signaled the change taking place in those one or two years -- where the early '80s placed a high premium on such qualities as 'attitude' and 'danceability', the end of the same decade fell headfirst into a pit of 'sincerity'. "Like a Virgin" turned into "Like a Prayer"; the youthful naïveté of "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" replaced with the surprisingly worldly Rhythm Nation 1814. Phil Collins was singing about "Another Day in Paradise", Martika was singing about "Toy Soldiers", and the nation's collective consciousness was looking for ways to help, even if we didn't know exactly what we wanted to help.

As such, Roxette fit the era perfectly, simultaneously representing a throwback to the more innocent days of the early '80s, while giving the occasional nod to the synthetic sincerity of the latter half of the decade. Plus, they're from Sweden, and most of the country had, at that point, had enough time to recover from Abba, allowing for a collective readyness for a return to sugar-sweet melodies and soaring, oft-repeated choruses.

This is not to say that Roxette actually sounds all that much like Abba -- on the contrary, the song that would break Roxette on American shores is "The Look", a song uncharacteristically dominated by rock guitars and songwriter/vocalist Per Gessle's unplugged Bon Jovi rasp. In hindsight, it was the perfect "getting to know you" lead single, a song that stood out amongst the pop landscape with its positive, yet pleasingly gritty vibe and the sort of quick, rhythmic delivery that coerces people into bad karaoke performances. Little did we know at that point that the voice of Roxette, the one we would be hearing at the front of the group's subsequent, biggest hits, was the one buried in the chorus, echoing and harmonizing with Gessle at every opportunity. This is the voice that belongs to one Marie Fredriksson, and she's unfailingly the "ballad-voice" of Roxette, a pitch-perfect, blindingly bleached siren who made such clichéd sentiments as "Listen to Your Heart" sound impassioned and worth hearing.

A Collection of Roxette Hits: Their 20 Greatest Songs! is, despite its cumbersome and curiously exclamatory title, currently the best compilation out there for a pseudo-fan simply looking for all the radio tunes -- such a person would likely be ill-advised to pick up the simultaneously-released five-disc RoxBox, and the import compilations that separate the ballads from the dance tracks only point out the need to buy two CDs instead of just one, even if each of those discs does include a few new tracks.

The first half of this Collection is full of the songs that any child of the late '80s will absolutely recognize, even if the immediate recolletion is met with a bit of a blush. The aforementioned "The Look" and "JoyRide" are fun little tunes that carry with them the added bonus of Gessle's lead vocals, a pleasing counterpoint to Fredriksson's diva-isms, though she proves she can have fun too, what with the upbeat swagger of "Dressed for Success" proving to be one of the album's high points. Even as it was when these songs were released, however, all of these fun little pop songs are dwarfed by the humongous ballads, songs like "Listen to Your Heart", the lovely and (comparatively) understated "Spending My Time", and Pretty Woman's smash hit "It Must Have Been Love". These are the songs that provoked thousands of teary eyes in dark rooms, songs of simultaneous regret and empowerment, a combination that both ensured pop chart longevity and eventual public disdain. It would be only too soon that America would collectively declare Roxette cavity-inducing has-beens to be ignored and even ridiculed.

Perhaps appropriately, this transformation occurs near-instantaneously with the awful "Almost Unreal", whose refrain's opening line "I love when you do that hocus pocus to me" made a lot more sense for the movie it was written for (Hocus Pocus) than the movie it ended up in (Super Mario Brothers. Seriously.). As such, not only does it sound like corporate pandering, but it's probably the most forced smash hit wannabe Roxette ever created. And just like that, Roxette's albums weren't showing up in the United States anymore. Given the latter half of the album, it's kind of a shame, given that songs like the straightforward, fairly rocking "Sleeping in My Car" and the rather lovely "Milk and Toast and Honey" (which sounds like Dido before Dido was Dido) could have livened up the American pop landscape that had so unfortunately passed them by. Heck, even "Stars" could have made some noise as the best "Ray of Light" knockoff out there.

Alas, it was not to be, and we are thus left with might-have-beens. Of the new tracks, apparently recorded in 2006 but which sound about 20 years older than that, the upbeat "One Wish" is worth a listen or two, while "Reveal" is insipid and melody-deficient, and neither really deserves to break Roxette back into the American mainstream at any point, even as extras on the first American Roxette release since the last hits compilation (which was back in 2000, a re-release of a hits album that was released in Europe five years earlier). I suspect, however, that further American fame is simply one of those things that Gessle and Fredriksson could care less about, given their massive and surprisingly enduring European success. As it is, A Collection of Roxette Hits may well be perfect for the one-time fan who missed out on Roxette's late '90s output, not to mention those retroficionados looking to play a little game of "what are they up to now?" Trying to evaluate the quality of a hits collection from a band like Roxette is a near-futile task, for it is what it is, but it does its job just fine, and if you buy it, you know pretty much exactly what you're getting into. Which, I suppose, is something of a success in and of itself.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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