Undoubtedly Trevor Horn is a great producer. He knows far more about music than I can ever learn. So it’s with a little trepidation that I will say I think his new album is pretty dire.
In the same way that great bands don’t always produce brilliant albums, a producer can surely have an off day too. Horn’s new album Echoes: Ancient And Modern is just out. And it seems like he's had quite a few of those off days.
Horn has worked with many great artists, especially back in the eighties. He came to prominence with The Buggles and “Video Killed The Video Star”. Horn went on to sing with Yes and produce many hits with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones and Seal amongst others. He’s called on some of that history and his contact book for the new album to bring in guest singers But it’s not worked for this collection of songs.
Trevor Horn explains his new album
As Horn explains himself, the album has 11 covers, including three songs he has produced before.
Firstly, if we are all honest, it's rare that cover versions leave us thinking they sound better or at least as good as the original versions. There are exceptions to that general rule of course, but not on this album. Not even with a variety of top musicians and singers collaborating with him.
Horn talks of the songs on the album being echoes of the past. That perhaps explains the slowing down of many. The softer tones used and the quieter more laconic vocals. And there lies just one of the problems with the album.
Echoes: Ancient And Modern Track listing
“Swimming Pools (Drank)” with Tori Amos
“Steppin' Out” with Seal
“Owner Of A Lonely Heart” with Rick Astley
”Slave To The Rhythm” with Lady Blackbird
“Love Is A Battlefield” with Marc Almond
“Personal Jesus” with Iggy Pop
“Drive” with Steve Hogarth
“Relax” with Toyah Wilcox & Robert Fripp
“White Wedding” with Andrea Corr with Jack Lukeman
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Jack Lukeman
If we get to the basics there are maybe a couple of interesting songs in “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Love Is A Battlefield”. Maybe that's down to them being less familiar originals to me. Then there are several tracks like “Avalon” on which Horn does the vocals, “Slave To The Rhythm”, “Steppin’ Out” or “Drive”, which all slowly plod around. They seem somewhat lost in purpose although the softer, slower approach is perhaps less of an issue on these songs.
There are a handful of the tracks which I’d describe at best as poor. Fans of Depeche Mode cover your ears for Horn’s take on “Personal Jesus”. It features Iggy Pop but he hasn’t given it an extra edge or bite.
There is worse to come from the album
Horn revisits his eighties period again with a version of “Relax”. Frankie says No comes immediately to mind. The laid-back version loses the spark and life of the original. And talking of losing something, “White Wedding” is a pale shadow of the Billy Idol original, where’s the raw excitement and energy?
Well, it’s not with Horn’s version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, either that’s for sure. The drawn-out vocals on that are reminiscent of the Crash Test Dummies on “ Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”. By far the worst of the bunch on the album. If I share that The Arts Desk’s view on Horn’s take on the Nirvana classic is to describe it as “Worst of all, bottom of the pile, howlingly, astonishingly dreadful, vocally posturing, musical theatre-ish” you get a feel for the way it's turned out.
In general, the media reviews are mixed. Unfortunately for Horn, there are plenty at the low end of the range sharing similar views to my own and to those of The Arts Desk. You may want to make up your own mind. It’s widely available to stream or buy online, but do so at your own risk of disappointment!
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