Sunday, April 10, 2005
The Killers - Mr. Brightside (Thin White Duke Mix)
At some point a few months ago I finally admitted to myself that, far from disdaining slightly Jacques Lu Cont’s mix of Starsailor's "Four To The Floor" (on account of it being, like, Starsailor) I actually kinda loved it. When it was all over the radio early last year I was all a bit, "oh, so fuckin' typical, possibly the one big honest to goodness electro-house hit to date is based on soppy post-Travis whimpering". Which is unfair, because I certainly used to love soppy pre-Travis whimpering, and pretty much only gave up on it because all the bands in this continuum (i'm talking Coldplay etc.) seemed so afraid of the middle of their bodies.

Listen to the Starsailor original and Lu Cont's version back to back and it becomes supremely evident just how masterful the latter is: the stodgy, dragging orchestral blare replaced by supernatural sleek iciness, Mr Starsailor's whines (as lyrically awkward as ever, unfortunately) a suddenly treasurable last vestige of inappropriate displays of emotion in a mechanistic world - kinda Metropolis, at a stretch. Like a more unambiguously pop Michael Mayer, Lu Cont's primary talent is for coming up with just a few incredibly catchy hooks and watching them rub up against eachother. On "Four To The Floor" the prime examples of this are when that nagging little synth riff starts beeping lugubriously behind the vocals, and then those long drawn out echo-chamber groans of "Whoah-oh-oh" (Lu Cont does this a lot). Small additions and modulations to this limited itinerary have a huge impact: if much electro-house (especially that in the Tiefschwarz mould) suggests an almost chaotic assemblage of great sounds, Lu Cont's pieces (and Mayer's) resemble massive and at times foreboding edifices, uncluttered but grandiose architectural feats that effortlessly create and enforce an entire state of mind on the dancefloor.

There's some awesome recent Lu Cont mixes floating around at the moment: Fischerspooner's "Just Let Go" becomes a sublime piece of hyperspeed sci-fi blues (and how ominous when the vocalist murmurs "deep in this anatomy.... buried...." - this sort of marvellously portentous soundbytism is precisely why "Emerge", though no classic, is better than you dismiss it as being), while Juliet's "Avalon" is transformed into a gorgeously slithery robo-salsa that may be the sexiest thing to hit dancefloors this year. But my favourite of the recent crop is the remix which manages to surpass even "Four To The Floor" in the wimpy-indie stakes, The Killers' "Mr. Brightside".

Unlike Starsailor, The Killers are perfect candidates for a Lu Cont makeover, perhaps because they sound like they should be making dance music instead of rock anyway, as the great-hooks-in-search-of-a-point conundrum of "Somebody Told Me" aptly demonstrates. The original "Mr Brightside" theoretically finds them at the peak of their powers, leading some to suggest that a Lu Cont remix is kinda superfluous. Certainly "Mr Brightside" in its original form is like a shiny stripped down hook machine, but I also find it just a bit too focused, its propulsive pop-rock precision too easy to mistake for emotional and creative stinginess.

Lu Cont arrives with the perfect "Extended Mix". I expounded upon the virtues of Extended Mix revivalism in relation to Ewan Pearson back in '03, but recently Lu Cont has journeyed even further into this mould: his remix of "Mr Brightside" is only nominally dance music, and is certainly no more physical than the original. Whereas "Four To The Floor" was an efficient catchphrase in search of a groove to give it purpose, "Mr Brightside" is a bare-bones structure of a love song that requires emotional colouring-in to give it heart. And it is heart rather than grooves that Lu Cont provides in spades. In order to do this - to humanise The Killers' formalist eighties rock surge - he eschews all of the brutal synthetic trappings of post-electroclash in favour of an entirely different vocabulary of eighties production cliches. With a palette of lush string-pads, percolating synth patterns and bittersweet bass riffs, the sensibility that Lu Cont employs here is as close to Fleetwood Mac circa Tango In The Night or (to get to the absolute heart of bad taste) mid-eighties Marillion as it is to "Bizarre Love Triangle".

As you might expect, the mix is also full of delightful little tricks, like Lu Cont looping an echo of the word “control” in a conscious reference to his flattening remix of The Faint’s “The Conductor” from a few years back. But there’s a certain formal restraint at work here as well, a clear intention to remain in a subordinate role to the song and all the sonics are chosen with the express purpose of complementing its ebb and flow. With its glittering surfaces and sheer largesse, it's a smoothly sweeping, aristocratic take on digital romanticism that is simultaneously idealistic and hollow, blown up with melodrama but devoid of content. This grandiose emptiness is the lynchpin to the track’s success.

After spilling forth all the bile of his disgust at his (current? former?) girlfriend's (witnessed? imagined?) encounter with another man and pondering over the unstoppable force of jealousy, the singer incongruously lightens up: “…but it’s just the price I pay/destiny is calling me/open up my eager eyes/’cos I’m Mr Brightside.” In the original, dominated by tense guitar, this comes across as sneering irony, the singer preparing to return to the relationship game like he’s returning to the job he hates (you might say that “Mr Brightside” places the singer in the exact circumstances where he can become conscious of the fact that he’s socially conditioned to want a relationship, but nonetheless remains powerless to stop his desire repeating itself; the ideology is on the side of compulsive behaviour rather than belief).

Lu Cont could have remained consistent with this vision of the ultimate pointlessness and totalitarianism of love, but instead he turns it on its head: the sheer romance of the production won’t allow the singer his ironic turn, or, rather, it spins his turn further into a strange and strangely affecting affirmation of pain. Love is still pointless and unbearable, but when the singer says his eyes are eager he now means it. His eyes aren’t closed: he knows that most of the time love leads to pain. And yet he is filled with a sense of fidelity to the event of falling in love and its potential transformative power, signified in all the starry-eyed, trebly synth sounds that percolate around him effervescently. All relationships to date can be written off as a distortion or a falling-short of the ideal: Mr. Brightside refuses to learn from history because what can history tell us about such an event that would change the world so radically?

Strictly speaking I think that the singer would do well to stay right away from Lu Cont’s synthesisers, which enact the exact same sort of oddly cruel emotional manipulation that overwrought romance films do, leaving you vaguely wondering whether tragedy isn’t indeed preferable to dreary existence (the structural lie (or one of them at any rate) at the heart of romance films being their incapability of representing dreary existence even when they specifically want to). What is it about the form of tragic romance that makes it so irresistible, so resistant to demystification? Is it simply that tragic subjects are also “complete” subjects, their loss and pain simultaneously their purpose, the grounds for meaningful existence (thesis: Britney’s “Born To Make You Happy” as her lecture on Lacan’s objet petit a)? And what is art doing when it sets out so deliberately to affirm this belief? Could it be that listening to this is very, very bad for me? Or am I just addicted to music which expresses and evokes emotions which I cannot and will not articulate within my “real” life?


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