Duncan Sheik

CD Review: Duncan Sheik, “Covers Eighties Remixed”

On the surface, Duncan Sheik’s Covers Eighties Remixed might fall into the “absolutely inessential” category. After all, as its name implies, this covers compilation is itself a remixed version of his 2011 album (wait for it) Covers Eighties. But dismissing this new collection does a disservice both to Sheik’s talent and his creativity.

For starters, his selection of ’80s covers isn’t obvious. While decade staples Psychedelic Furs, Tears For Fears and Depeche Mode appear, Sheik also highlights elegant synthpop cult heroes Japan (the Ben Casey take on “Gentlemen Take Polaroids,” here buffed up by warm vocals and brisk electro beats), swooning New Romantics the Blue Nile (Sheik’s piano-tickled, Teutonic-techno take on “Stay”) and ambient icons Talk Talk (the lovely Bookworm remix of “Life’s What You Make It,” a dead ringer for So-era Peter Gabriel).

Perhaps more impressive, Covers Eighties Remixed isn’t afraid to radically deconstruct beloved songs. The Max Tannone remix of the Smiths’ “William, It Was Really Nothing” replaces guitars with analog synths, choppy robotic vocal effects and belching electronic beats. The Samantha Ronson take on the Cure’s “Kyoto Song” is aggressive goth-night fodder—with suitably forceful vocals from Sheik—and the Terry Urban remix of Depeche Mode’s “Stripped” adds DJ scratches and hip-hop cadences.

But Sheik’s strength as a vocalist carries the album. The excellent Gabriel & Dresden remix of Howard Jones’ “What Is Love?” –which boasts whooshing keyboards, swatches of cut-and-paste beats, acoustic guitar and melancholy piano—features a breathy, soul-tinged croon. (That this song stands out isn’t unsurprising; Sheik and Jones have collaborated before.)  The Chico Mann remix of Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” is conspiratorial and intimate, while Sheik brings the right balance of urgency and concern to the, er, Depeche Mode-esque version of Tears For Fears’ “Shout.” (Airy vocal contributions from Skylar Grey on the former and smoky additions from Rachael Yamagata on the latter also help their cause.)

If anyone else but “that guy who had that one hit in the ’90s” released Covers Eighties Remixed, the album would probably get far more attention and respect. It’s a shame: Sheik’s passion for electronic music—and the inventive way he interprets songs and utilizes collaborators—ensures the record is a solid, worthwhile listen.