The Crystal Method – Vegas (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) [2-CD digipak]
Geffen/Outpost Records (9/18/07)
Electronic / Dance
At this point in time, if you haven’t heard of The Crystal Method, chances are you either (a) have been living under a rock for the past ten years, (b) do your damnedest to eschew electronic music and/or (c) actually have heard their music, but didn’t know who it was. In any event, since their inception in Los Angeles in 1993, they’ve reached Moby-like heights in ubiquity, with numerous credits on movie soundtracks, as well as TV series and commercial spots. Their third album, the lukewarm Legion of Boom, was nominated for the very first Grammy Award for Best Electronica/Dance Album. I’m sure that that errant “a” at the end of “Electronic” was a mistake, because we all know that there’s no such thing as “electronica”. Some would say that The Crystal Method have sold their souls to Abbadon Angra Mainyu, but their success as a major founder of the big beat/nu skool breaks genre (and the vanguard American act to boot) is undeniable.
Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland got their big break in 1994, after answering a want ad in Urb magazine that had been posted by upstart imprint City of Angels, asking independent electronic music producers to send their demo tapes to the label for an opportunity to be included among their talent lineup. The duo sent in a recording of their pride and joy, “Now Is the Time”, which was a hit with City of Angels brass, earning them an instant deal, though it was their duo’s second single, “Keep Hope Alive” (held together by a savvy sample of a Jesse Jackson speech), that really made a big impact with the public. It hit airwaves in 1995, and took off onâ€”of all radio stationsâ€”Los Angeles’ KROQ, which at the time was one the nation’s largest modern rock/alternative stations. It exposed rock fans to an entirely new sound, and record sales on the single and the 1997 follow-up LP, Vegas, would show just how many people were paying attention. While the band would later seem to almost pander to said rock fans by bringing in artists like Scott Weiland and Ozzy Osbourne for mediocre collaborations, Vegas was special in that it managed to bridge the genre gap with pure, unadulterated big beat dance music.
And it’s that Vegas that is widely revered as the one of the best electronic albums of all time. Utilizing a wide assortment of equipment, most notably the Calvia Nord Lead synthesizer, it contains classics like the futuristic “Busy Child” (the first and arguably most successful single from the album), the aforementioned “Keep Hope Alive”, the deep, atmospheric “High Roller”, as well as “Comin’ Back” and “Trip Like I Do” (which would later be reworked with rock band Filter for the rock-vs.-electronic Spawn soundtrack). Most of the songs are all unique in that they have been wildly successful in both a club setting and in various movie and TV spots. And the aforementioned savvy sampling doesn’t stop with “Keep Hope Alive”, as the album also features various bits and pieces from Bill Cosby comedy routines (“Bad Stone”), the 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal (“Trip Like I Do”), a message left on Kirkland’s answering machine by an inebriated club girl (again, “Trip Like I Do”), Eric B. & Rakim (“Busy Child”) and communications with NASA’s Mission Control Center (“High Roller”). With the use of seamless sound filtering and beautiful mastering, the samples work so well in the songs that the listener would barely even notice some of them.
The first disc of this set is the original Vegas with additional remastering. While the production on the original release was incredibly smooth, the remastering does offer a bit more atmospheric effects, though to the casual listener, it won’t vary much at all. In other words, unless you have a damn good sound system, it’s essentially the same album. And no, that abomination the back of your Honda Civic is not a damn good sound system. The real treat is the second disc, which offers 10 EXCLUSIVE audio tracks, including various remixes, a live version of “Vapor Trail” and a demo version of “Comin’ Back”, from 1993, as well as the music videos for “Busy Child” and “Comin’ Back”.
So does the second disc help or hurt the original album when paired with it? It plays like a Vegas 2007, with more modern versions of songs created at the beginning of the big dance music rush. The Sta Mix of “Busy Child” gives it nice electroclash edge, but for the first minute it sort of drags, while the Hyper Remix of the same track stays more true to the original while giving it some more balls. Paul Oakenfold also takes a shot at the track, but his version, while highly danceable, is probably the weakest, as the first seven minutes really don’t do much except add a harder 909 beat and what sounds like music from an early ’90s Game Boy game. After the seven-minute mark it starts to do some interesting things, so if you don’t switch it right away, you’ll be rewarded. The hard-edged Tom Real vs. The Rogue Element Remix of “Trip Like I Do” has a really nice flow, like a well-written piece of literature that dares to eschew the shackles of plot. The incarnation of “Keep Hope Alive”, remixed by hipster clubkids MSTRKRFT (who have made a name for themselves remixing bands like Metric, The Kills, Bloc Party, Wolfmother and The Gossip and I’d better stop before Shawn M. Smith gets mad at me again) isn’t bad, but it really doesn’t even seem like it has anything at all to do with the original. Fellow nu skool breaks artists Koma and Bones revamp “Comin’ Back” into a hard-driving piece of club artillery to blast the shiny shirts and fake tans off of all of the choads. The dark and brooding Deadmau5 remix of “Cherry Twist” moves well with BASS OF DEATH Y’ALL, not unlike The Chemical Brothers’ “Under the Influence”, while Myagi’s take on “High Roller” is probably the strongest on the album, giving the track a even more dystopian sound, paired with Boom Boom Satellites-like production.
The demo version of “Comin’ Back” gives the listener a nice insight into how the duo sounded at their beginning, while the live recording of “Vapor Trail”, while very good, doesn’t really seem like it’s live other than the three or so seconds at the beginning and end when you can hear the crowd cheering. The charm of a live track is usually the alternate takes on the track, though, there are parts of the songs that do change it up a bit to keep me from bitching.
The first disc is easily a 5-gunner, so the real rating here is on the second disc. Luckily none of the remixes are bad, with even the weaker ones being just good. Combine that with some real winners, as well as the nice demo and live tracks, and videos, and you’ve got probably and 3.5 or 4. And since the digipak liner notes and artwork really kick ass, I’ll give the overall composition one of my highest ratings of the year. This album has something for everyoneâ€”if you already have the original, buy it for the second disc, and if you don’t have the original, buy it for both discs.