12” / 80s / 2
f the 80s were the decade of excess, then surely the 12” single was the defining artistic artifact of the decade. It’s really sort of an ingenious concept when you think about it—the idea of a new version of your favorite song that doesn’t necessarily change anything about the original creation, doesn’t put a new spin on it, doesn’t attempt to add really much of anything to the song except more. Imagine how J.D. Salinger obsessives would feel about a 12” version of Catcher in the Rye, which doesn’t break the mood, confuse the plot or contradict the characters, but merely adds a couple extra chapters in the middle of Holden Caulfield pissing off his schoolmates and debating whether or not he should make a pass at the cute girl down the hall who always wears red sweaters. Why not? Hell, imagine if they added a two-minute drum and organ break to “96 Tears.” Sold!
12” / 80s / 2 is EMI’s second crack at anthologizing the 12” format in a surprisingly unadorned three-disc box set. The first one, released only a half-year ago to general acclaim, was a fairly good survey of the format, though it relied a bit too heavily on gothy tunes and had a weak third disc. 12” / 80s / 2 boasts a slightly greater average quality of song selection, but generally, it’s probably only the people whose fetishism for both the 80s and buying the same songs they already have over again (in different forms!) left them unable to resist the first one that won’t be able to resist this one either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
So just in case you missed the first one, you probably want to know what you’re getting. Well, mostly synth-pop, for one. You get a lot of 2nd-tier singles you might not know (or remember) from 1st tier bands you definitely do (Simple Minds’ “New Gold Dream,” Pet Shop Boys’ “Love Comes Quickly,” Tears for Fears’ “Pale Shelter,” and Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter”). You get some forgotten-but-not-too-forgotten classics like Pigbag’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” The Associates’ “Party Fears Two” (annoyingly not extended a second from the version I know) and Talk Talk’s “Night Train.” And then you get a whole bunch of songs I guess you sorta had to be there for (once again, mostly on the third disc—Sly & Robbie’s “Boops,” Animal Nightlife’s “Mr. Solitaire,” and for some reason ANOTHER Kid Creole & the Coconuts song).
And you get a couple legitimate classics. Duran Duran’s #1 single “The Reflex” is included, though they totally extended the WRONG part of the song--seriously, hands up if you’d actually rather hear a seemingly infinite loop of LeBon’s grating “why-y-y-y-y-y” braying instead of a seemingly infinite loop of LeBon’s awesome “FLEX-FLEX-FLEX-FLEX-FLEX” intro. INXS have better luck with the Liebrand mix of their “Need You Tonight”—adding a chintzy drum loop under the song’s already maximally addictive groove would sound of place just about anywhere else, but here it couldn’t sound more appropriate. And probably the crowning jewel of the comp is Echo & The Bunnymen’s much coveted “All Night Version” of “The Killing Moon,” previously only widely available on their Crystal Days box set (and of course on the orignal 12”). Is it better than the original? Well, it’s longer. So yeah, pretty much.
The biggest joys of 12” / 80s / 2 are some of the most unexpected ones (though no, the Miami Mix of ABC’s “When Smokey Sings” is not among them). We all knew Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Peek-a-Boo” was great, but we had no way of knowing just how mind-warping it was with the song’s potential limited to (four? five?) minutes. Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” lets its intro extend to over half the song’s nine-minute running time, making the thing sound more paranoid and claustrophobic than ever. Yello’s “The Race” is the perfect closer for the comp, a nearly apocalyptic sounding fascist groove thing whose title is aptly reflected in its 14-minute marathon length. And hey, turns out that Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” is pretty awesome after all.
It’s enough to make you wonder why the 12” format isn’t still as big as it used to be, really. I don’t know about you, but four minutes of Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To” isn’t really doing it for me anymore. Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’” is great, but not as great as it could be with an extended groove section where everything drops out but the piano and violins, with Jones’ voice eternally echoing “STILL TIPPIN’…TIPPPIN’….TIPPIN’…tippin’…” And don’t tell me you haven’t wondered what “Trapped in the Closet” would sound like with a five-minute symphonic overture. More. It’s mouthwatering.