Duncan Sheik – Covers Eighties Remixed (2012)

“Stripped” from The Song That Changed My Life Series from Duncan Sheik on Vimeo.

Former 1990s one-hit-wonder Duncan Sheik blows up the sleepy atmospheres that doomed last summer’s Covers Eighties, pumping some new life into the upbeat numbers — but, even more interestingly, completely enlivening the slower songs.

Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” remixed for this project by Chi Duly and featuring Rachael Yamagata, becomes a grinding beast. The Smiths’ “William, It Was Really Nothing,” already a shatteringly sad piece, is given a bigger beat by Max Tannone and these itchy synths — though nothing, of course, can really brighten up that song’s essential melancholy. “Stripped” is all rhythm, as if it was recorded inside a kick drum.

Still, Covers Eighties Remixed — due November 6, 2012 via Sheik’s Sneaky Records/MRI — would rise or fall with the way it approached the medium tempo songs. There’s a fine line, after all, between ineffable, cerulean beauty and a somnolent drone.

The good news is, Sheik’s army of mixing-board geeks give the rest of the album just enough gooses and jabs. For instance, the Gabriel & Dresden-remixed “What Is Love,” originally this snoozy Howard Jones cover, now strikes the perfect chord — emerging as something that’s simultaneously weightless and propulsively lonesome.

On “Stay,” perhaps the best track here, Sheik handles the mix himself, and the track’s new rhythmic complexities throw new light on the way he downshifts the Blue Nile vocal into the breathy cool of Paddy McAloon — achieving a sound very similar to his sleekly distilled mechano-folk outfit Prefab Sprout. So complete is Sheik’s ownership of the song, and so different is its weight and feel, that “Stay” alone might have been excuse enough to have done all of this knob twiddling.

“Life’s What You Make It,” just one of the desperately underrated moments from Talk Talk’s final turn toward fascinating weirdness, provides similarly fertile ground for remixer Bookworm. Appearing amidst a faraway cadence, Sheik steps even further back into the mix — he sounds something like mid-1980s-era Peter Gabriel — giving the tune a twilit poignancy. New depths are also revealed in his takes on songs from New Order, Depeche Mode and the Psychedelic Furs.

Then there’s “Hold Me Now,” a song that shouldn’t work — simply couldn’t work — so pervasive is the Thompson Twins’ initial take on it. It was, perhaps as expected, the nadir of the original version of Covers Eighties. But new textures courtesy of 16 Bit Lolita underscore the depths of Sheik’s more measured approach to the lyric — imbuing the song with a turbulent, frighteningly resonant sadness.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.