10 Years in the Life
ffrr / Warner / Reprise
A man more deserving of a ten-year retrospective than BT doesn’t exist. The fact that he’s had two released in the past year (the other being the patchy Rare And Remixed) is a point not lost on me, but the shortcomings of what’s been dubbed R+R (its track selection, principally) have more than been made up for with 10 Years. The set strikes a perfect balance between hits and personal favorites, original work and remixes, and solo productions and collaborations, bound together in gorgeous packaging with a booklet that almost brought a tear to my eye. Needless to say, the BT fan in me is excited.
Craig DeGraff (project coordinator) has woven this release together with meticulous care and a genuine sense of love and respect for the music he’s collating. In the liner notes, he says of Brian’s third full-length, Movement in Still Life, “from the opening track, I knew that they way I heard music would be forever changed.” It’s good to know that 10 Years was nurtured and sculpted by someone who actually got it. The set is housed in a digipak and slipcase, with the booklet safely tucked inside. BT has contributed liner notes, with a retrospective biographical monologue of sorts and anecdotes on each track in the collection.
The first disc (a collection BT’s major singles, with other assorted album cuts and B-sides) opens with a track recorded in the seventies, at the height of disco fever. Or at least, it seems like it, until you realize just how expertly and sophisticatedly pieced together “The Moment of Truth” — BT’s first ever single, from 1993 — really is (and, of course, that BT was a mere toddler back when flares were all the rage). It’s unlike anything that he’s done since: epic, uplifting disco house complete with gospel tinges and wonderfully sincere lyrics (“I’m here to testify/That we can all get by/we all need a little love“). It’s about the most fun, tongue-in-cheek way the record could start: it’s proof that BT really has tried everything, and a total mind-fuck into the bargain.
From there we move through the deep, progressive house overtones that Brian pioneered in the early nineties with Deep Dish. There are three cuts from his debut release, IMA, including his seminal collaboration with Tori Amos, “Blue Skies” — a hint at the incredible artistic expansion that was to follow. Follow him through his next two albums, ESCM and Movement in Still Life, and be exposed to everything from pounding prog house to drum n’ bass, with some poppy dance and post-breaks-era madness thrown in for good measure. With his singles placed side-by-side like this, BT’s extraordinary creative diversity really becomes apparent. Even without his world music experiments, orchestral film scores and singer-songwriter work included, disc one shows us how utterly unafraid of exploration BT has been.
The main letdown of this package is the second CD — a continuous mix, mainly made up of BT’s remixes of other artists, with a few rarities thrown in for good measure. It’s not that the tracks here aren’t worth it — it’s just that the way they’ve been mixed together is really quite sub par. At best, the segues flow relatively well; at worst, they clash with what feels like a total lack of consideration for the art of DJing. Why BT didn’t undertake mixing duties himself is beyond me.
This set is worth owning for the first disc alone (and, considering the utter let-down that the second disc is, it’s lucky that CD one is so good). I’m not going to deify BT any more (that I worship the ground he walks on is really neither here nor there) — the fact that he’s shaped electronic music so dramatically, and has produced a body of work in the past decade that puts almost every comparable artist to shame, is reason enough to get your hands on 10 Years in the Life. Even if you know every song on here, you’ll be surprised at how they sit side-by-side. And if you’re only familiar with some of this material, you’re in for a treat, and a bit of a headspin into the bargain.