Twenty years ago, in an essay in The Village Voice, the writer Frank Kogan noticed two divergent trends in contemporary popular music. Heading in one direction were rock bands pulling wildly various styles like trance and New Age into an otherwise unified “rock” sound; and in the other camp were pop artists he classified as “Recombinant Dub,” which “take out the ‘lead’ instrument—the singer, the melody, the lead guitar,” and in its absence offer manifold possibilities for what aspects of a song to emphasize or cut back. The first classification is a near-spot-on description of Spoon, whose nerviness and boxed-in swagger belie their quirky musical choices, at times incorporating vibraphones, saz, and beatboxing. And the second could be retroactively applied to Adrian Sherwood, a prolific producer and soundboard mixer whose dub treatments of everything from Lee “Scratch” Perry to Depeche Mode bear a distinctly punky and industrial edge.
On Lucifer on the Moon, these two pathways converge—sort of. Spoon asked Sherwood to remix a few tracks from their most recent album, this year’s Lucifer on the Sofa, and the band enjoyed his takes so much they requested he tackle the whole thing. What emerges isn’t Lucifer on the Sofa with different mixes; Sherwood recorded new parts from other musicians for his “reconstructions,” most notably drummer Keith LeBlanc and bassist Doug Wimbish, often regarded as the in-house rhythm section for his On-U Sound label. Lucifer on the Moon is rather a radical reworking, exhibiting a level of commitment rarely taken by other artists on remix compilations.
And it certainly doesn’t resemble much of anything else made by either artist. Spoon has never sounded as relaxed or as spacy, and Sherwood hasn’t produced anything quite this sunny or shimmering. Such a direction is unusual considering the source material. For all its sly humor, Sofa alternates between music that’s either sleazy and sinister (“The Hardest Cut,” “Feels Alright”) or druggy and reflective (“My Babe,” “Astral Jacket”). The expectation is Sherwood would foreground these aspects of Sofa, evoking the murk and spookiness of his On-U Sound releases from the 1980s, but Moon is uncharacteristically sprightly, even when the tempos slow down. Sherwood’s reconstruction of “My Babe” could be the soundtrack for a Balearic sundown or a Screamadelica B-side. His upset of “On the Radio” excavates dubby, spliffed-out undertones that weren’t present on the original version.
Yet more often than not, the results are awkward. This is particularly true on the remakes of Sofa’s energetic, rock-oriented songs. The reconstructions of “Feels Alright” and “Wild” don’t veer too far from the originals outside of a lot more phasing. And Sherwood maintains the same pulse on the downcast title track, but with his beachier mix it starts to recall early-2000s chillout lounge music, a period that doesn’t need a revival. Part of the problem is Britt Daniel, whose scratchy voice and quasi-sneering delivery suit Spoon’s suit-and-tie rock but bristle against a lusher backdrop.
It’s natural to compare Moon to other dub-meets-indie-rock forays like Bill Callahan’s Have Fun With God or even Sherwood’s Echo Dek, his similar overhaul of Primal Scream’s 1997 album Vanishing Point. But a better analogy might be the Fireman, Paul McCartney and Youth’s ambient-house renovations of the former’s studio-pop LPs. Moon also showcases an unlikely collaboration that pushes both sides in new directions. But in trying to break new creative ground, these inventive musicians end up sounding stuck somewhere in the middle.
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