he real question on my mind while writing this review (and probably on yours while reading it) is, of course, “how much credit should we give Ladytron for this compilation?” Now if we judged it by the standards of a regular album, this album would simply be a straight 10.0, as Ladytron go 18 for 18 in terms of song selection, but when reviewing a regular album, we’re usually rewarding the artist’s effort, aren’t we? And although anybody who has ever slaved over making their own version of the music obsessive Holy Grail (about 90% of the folks reading this review, I imagine) will tell you that making a perfect mix is no easy task, can it ever really compare to the effort that goes into making the perfect original album? Should a truly great mix ever be given the same level of recommendation that a truly great original album would merit?
Of course Ladytron are not the first band to have explored the concept of paying tribute to your influences/giving props to your peers in CD form—conceptually, the practice has been around for decades in the form of the Cover Album, and more recently, the Back to Mine series and the newer Under the Influence series, among others, have given artists the chance to make such compilations. The difference here lies in the fact that Softcore Jukebox is not part of a series, but just an offering from the band to their fans, who are expected to take the band’s taste on good faith. In his brilliant review of New Order’s recent contribution to the Back to Mine series, Stylus writer Sam Bloch questions the justification behind laying down hard cash for a mix CD when you can get probably get Your Cool Friend to make you one for free, but points out that Your Cool Friend didn’t write “Your Silent Face.” Do Ladytron actually have the nerve to say “buy this mix of songs we have selected because we really are that cool?”
As if they needed to prove it. Ladytron’s impossibly chic sound and persona suggests something like an disco-infused Massive Attack, coolly detached from their ridiculously hip music while still maintaining a rapport with their audience through their dry sense of humor and lack of distancing pretension. Their last two albums, 604 and Light & Magic, could very well be the only survivors of the now somewhat vilified electroclash scene, packed with potential hit singles, sleek, self-aware and sexy. I can’t think of many groups whose coolness I would trust as implicitly as that of Ladytron. Naturally, they haven’t let me down. Here, Ladytron have selected 18 tunes, each of which is as impeccably cool as the band itself, calling on a diverse amount of groups from many eras to assemble what is, essentially, the perfect mix CD.
Ladytron starts you out with a couple of tunes you might already know. My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon” and The Fall’s “Hit the North” are a great way to start off any mix, the former’s sensual girl/boy dynamics and streamlined sound an obvious influence on the band itself, and the latter an incredibly fun tune from an extremely serious band who knew how to lighten up when necessary. From there, though, consider yourself a true pop obsessive if you’ve even heard five of these songs (I’ve only heard one, plus different versions of two of the songs). There’s contemporary electro-pop made by Ladytron’s peers (Dondolo’s “Peng!,” Snap Ant’s “Saviour Piece”), a couple modern house classics (Seelenluft’s “Manila” and arguable collection highlight “Crazy Girls” by Codec and Flexor), Prince-like spazz funk (Cristina’s--no, not Christina—“What’s a Girl to Do”), a lost classic of the Madchester era (New Fast Automatic Daffodils’ “Big”) and a bunch of real pop oddities (the Aphex Twin/Beach Boys hybrid “Twins” by Pop Levi, Fat Truckers’ hilarious “Teenage Daughter”). And more!
Also generously included are two semi-new Ladytron tunes. Semi, because the first is a revision of a V. 2.0 of an old song of theirs (Light and Magic’s “Blue Jeans”) and because the second was already released in Europe as a b-side (and is a cover). Softcore Jukebox’s “Blue Jeans” replaces the organs of the Light and Magic version with some guitars! and harder drums, improving rather significantly on the original. And, to top it off, their cover of one of the biggest hip-hop hits of last year, Tweet’s “Oops (Oh, My)” is a true gem. The practice of indie bands ironically covering “bad” pop songs has been a staple for way too long (see Coldplay’s “Hot in Herre” for another recent example), but here Ladytron keep the song’s spirit intact without being annoyingly smug or irreverent. In fact, Ladytron’s punkified cover could easily be mistaken for an original, it feels so natural, bettering the original (not exactly a gem itself) several times over.
I played this mix a couple weeks ago when I was with a bunch of my friends. Four of them, each with different taste in music, individually came up to me to comment on how cool it was. So no, Ladytron themselves might not have composed most of the music here, but they did compile 18 great songs, several of which you’ve probably never even heard of before, into an impeccable party mix which might be the best single disc of music you’ll hear all year. And for that, Ladytron’s efforts should be rewarded.