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Friday, February 10, 2006

Morrissey - Suedehead (Sparks Remix)

My first impulse is to explain the goodness of this song by saying that it takes Morrissey and puts him in a Sparks context. But that isn't really sufficient; recent DFA remixes have demonstrated quite well that simply applying your style to a preexisting piece of music in no way guarantees good results, even if the style in question is a good one. Certainly Sparks are working their recent sound here, symphonic not only with its melodic instrumentation but with its percussive as well, but still working somehow (and in this way unlike some of their more recent material) as electronic music in a way that, say, P. Glass' cover of Aphex Twin songs don't. Mr. James was reworking art-music tropes in a dance-music context (eek!) whereas Sparks are reconfiguring pop-electronic tropes in the orchestral form, in the process coming as close to film scores of the 30s as they do to, say, Handel.

I think the abstract frisson of this particular track comes not from Sparks applying their template to any old "that's not like Sparks!" genre, but a specific one: over-emotive acoustic balladry. You can hear those sort of songs with string arrangements, but not like this one; indeed, what's noticable is that they're working with a track that already has a string arrangement and simply by giving it a different one makes it sound new. Maybe it's just the beat or the sharp edges, but my guess is that it's clearest in the contrapuntal breakdown that comes around the four-minute mark. Sparks layers Moz's vocals in an ingneous and fascinating way, creating both melodic and linguistic relations that weren't there before, but what's significant is that they're so layered, you can't make out the all the words. This is something you could never see Morrissey doing, but it works remarkably well, and results in a quite unique piece of music. So in the end, I think the success should be ascribed not only to the choice of genre, but to the particular member of that genre they're focusing on. It's a great song, but in a way it could be most any Morrissey song; what matters is the way Sparks, by chopping up the vocals, highlights certain tendencies of the source (in this case, the hidden harmonic relations in the vocals) and its connections with the remixers.

(Buy Future Retro, from which this track was taken)
(Buy Viva Hate, which contains the original "Suedehead")