This is a curious thing: 2015 and we have a remix album of a rock record. Mark Lanegan, or to be precise Mark Lanegan Band, have offered up tracks from last year’s Phantom Radio long player and No Bells On Sunday EP for the remix treatment. Those lining up to fiddle with the knobs include such luminaries as Moby, UNKLE and Greg Dulli with the result being A Thousand Miles Of Midnight - Phantom Radio Remixes.
The point of such an exercise is always a little hard to fathom. Handing over such content to another is always going to lead to a dissolution of the original creative identity and then this may reflect badly on the artist. Where the music, in the hands of another, becomes more than the sum of the parts then the plaudits go to the remixer. Essentially Mark Lanegan is in lose-lose territory (but he has deemed it “interesting” to do, so there we have it). Surely no better for the fan of the source music either: buy the original and fall in love with it so no incentive to get hold of the reimagined version. Not a fan of the original, then why would you go out of your way to get this?
Such arguments pale when it comes down to this simple question; is it any good or not? The answer is yes. And no. Let’s start with the highlights. Moby offers up a shimmering slice of electronica with his reworking of ‘Torn Red Heart’, it is as light as a spring breeze with its synth chords gently nudging a sample of Lanegan’s vocal. The track builds layer upon layer intricately melding sounds together. It is a treat and a clear stand out track. Similarly outstanding is ‘Floor of the Ocean’ which is given a startling makeover by Pye Corner Audio. Where the Moby effort is full of light and longing the tone of ‘Floor of the Ocean’ is much, much darker. Lanegan’s singing is pretty much left untouched but the backing is stripped back with bare eerie electro beats picking up the melody giving the song a disturbing android quality. ‘The Wild People’, as remixed by Alastair Galbraith, keeps Lanegan’s wonderful performance pretty much intact whilst accentuating the prairie blown vocal with minimal instrumentation. It is 21st century country and western and fine evidence for less being more when it comes to leaving an emotional impact. Also worth a mention is Tom Furse’s extrapolation (so it says here) on ‘Seventh Day’. It is a funky reworking with some bongos, babbling wah-wah and bursts of strings bringing to mind Alabama 3’s better moments.
On the downside there are too many tracks where remixing has meant sticking a few beats and bleeps on it and little else. Greg Dulli is the worst offender here with ‘I am the Wolf’ sounding horribly stilted. It goes precisely nowhere from start to finish. If he phoned in this effort, he got cut off halfway through. Other tracks are neither good nor bad but are a bit dull. ‘The Killing Season’ by UNKLE is fine but never really gets going which is a shame, given the great lyrics it opens with: “The killing season is beginning/I feel your hands around my throat.” Musically it musters nothing more than the sense of swollen tonsils as opposed to the dramatic life and death scenario the words conjure up. ‘Harvest Home’, the towering single off the original album, is similarly truncated by its remix. Magnus hasn’t done a bad job but it just doesn’t offer anything vital over the previous incarnation of the song. You are left with the wish that he bothered himself with it at all.
Too many tracks here would make decent background music but there is not the sense of daring to make it the main event. The other thing to say here is that this is a long album. 14 tracks, some clocking in around seven or eight minutes, is way too many. It stops it being a record with a sense of coherence. Instead you are left feeling it is a sampler to dip in and out of. This last point is crucial ultimately. A Thousand Miles Of Midnight - Phantom Radio Remixes is a mixed bag overall and thus hard to recommend in its entirety. Instead it may be more useful to seek out the odd track which is more than the sum of its parts. Only then will you get the synthesis of Phantom Radio and the best from those who Lanegan invited to the project. “Interesting” does not equate to “good” on too many occasions here.