As a perennial feature of the “indie-but-it-also-has-a-dancey-beat” scene for well over a decade, Foals have reached the stage in their career where they can step back, relax, and let someone else do the work. They’ve done this by releasing a series of 3 “reworked” albums over lockdown where their past tunes are remixed by top DJs, available to stream or purchase on vinyl. I’ve been listening to the third instalment; an album creatively named Collected Reworks Volume III.
Facetiousness aside, it must be said that these rework albums come with some serious kudos. This volume alone features dance music royalty in the form of triple Norwegian-Grammy winning DJ Lindstrøm. It also includes two tracks by the co-composer of the end-credits music used in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, and former member of top-ten charting industrial rockers Pop Will Eat Itself, Clint Mansell. Mansell is also the man behind the score for the 1990 cult-hit film Requiem for a Dream – including that song that you would definitely know if you heard it, but couldn’t really hum if someone put you on the spot.
Alongside these big kahunas, Collected Reworks Volume III features the input from some of the live-DJ scene’s biggest hitters, including BBC Radio 1 showcase-graduate Koreless, and Paul Woolford, whose collaboration with Diplo on ‘Looking for Me’ earnt him a number 4 UK single in June of this year. It really seemed there was a bottomless pit of promise and talent ready to mix, master and manipulate Yannis and the band’s selected highlights from a back catalogue of six studio albums.
So does it all come together? Frustratingly for a review, it really is difficult to tell. Before my editor politely asks me to never write for her again, let me justify myself. As you may have noticed, the live music and DJ scene has taken somewhat of a cricket bat to the face thanks to a certain virus. The result of this is that, despite giving this album a fair chance, by listening multiple times and in multiple contexts, these contexts have unfortunately only stretched as far as; in my room self-isolating; in the kitchen making beans on toast; and during a particularly groovy shower before a 9am zoom seminar.
I can’t help but think that some of these world-leading dance DJs had something else in mind when layering their electronic beats, building to a cathartic release that really was aimed at a crowd of devoted dance fans; rather than someone whose most exciting moment in the last week was deciding whether to have Cornflakes or Shreddies.
Paul Woolford’s remix of ‘My Number’ for example – a song I love – didn’t elicit a buoyant party-driven enthusiasm in me as it should’ve. But this was most certainly not his fault. He’s treated Yannis’ vocals with care; adding a beat that cleverly compliments a unique and clean vocal performance devoid of the more plaintive features that can be heard elsewhere in the album. It feels as though he may have been advised to focus on dance-pop – such as the sort played by commercial stations – but there are definite allusions to a ‘drop’ which is, I guess, to be expected from a man who should be filling dancefloors across Europe if it weren’t for Covid-19. Much like 2020, this track and others sound a little confused, unsure of purpose and unwilling to commit either way.
It is instead the more wistful and less pulsating tracks that I found myself gaining affection for on my third or fourth listen. In ‘Spanish Sahara’ Mount Kimbie has driven atmosphere deep into the heart of this well-crafted, yet slightly regimented track, taken from their second studio album, Total Fear Forever. The remixed opening retains the delicate beauty of the haunting vocals but, through building rhythmic thuds into a crackling, irregular soundscape, he captures better the “quiet fury” alluded to lyrically than even the original does.
Another complication for a reviewer is the fact that this album, quite naturally for a compilation, doesn’t quite feel like an album should. There are highs and lows to it, but this is seemingly created by someone arbitrarily ordering the songs so that there’s a “dancey” one followed by a mellow one in a kind of ABAB sequence. Sometimes they get away with this. But the sequence where Joe Corti’s ‘Dreaming of’ is sandwiched between two meandering 8 minute experimental tracks (‘Miami’ and ‘Balloons’), felt like somewhat of a slog to get through, despite each of these songs having interesting and merit-worthy qualities of their own.
Unfortunately, this is indicative of the whole album. Some of the ideas work well, but some feel misplaced, lacking clarity, uncertain of even themselves. Much like, presumably, the ideas of the scientists trying to solve the pandemic. Maybe if those boffins nail it, this album will come into focus and I’ll be able to properly understand it. But who knows when that’ll be possible?