Walking On Thin Ice
A project like this, an album-length maxi-single of remixes of one of Yoko Ono’s most well-received singles by well-known names in dance such as Pet Shop Boys, carries with it a certain, unavoidable problem.
It is just as much a cliché to criticize Yoko Ono’s vocals as it is to make jokes about Linda McCartney’s keyboard playing. Nevertheless, I am sorry, and meaning to speak no ill of the dead in the latter case, there is a reason those things became clichés. At the end of the day, all the additional production, remixing, new drum programming and keyboards can only put a shine on the bottom line that Ono, for all her gifts as a conceptual artist, writer and filmmaker — and they are considerable — simply should not sing in public. Ever.
For this reason, the most immediately successful mixes here, in terms of presenting Ono’s music in an appealing way, are Peter Rauhofer’s “chill” mix and the Orange Factory’s radio mix. Rauhofer’s mix (the second of his two on the disc) lives up to its designation with a production that may remind you of those great synthesizer soundtracks of the ’80s. All electronic washes and watery synths, it is a refreshing coda on which to conclude this maxi-CD. Orange Factory gives the song a more straightforward, partylike atmosphere that emphasizes the groove over the beat of most of the other versions. But both de-emphasize Ono’s vocal, and are the better for it.
Ono has been long maligned for bands she supposedly broke up combined with what many would call her less-than-compelling musical gifts. There is a school of thought, however, which says that she was actually an ahead-of-her-time mother (or at least aunt) to new wave and electro-clash. I find that easier to subscribe to in theory than practice, however, and even if it were completely, undeniably, 100% true, how much better does that make the music sound? Ono’s work still suffers from an overly self-conscious, cerebral approach, which can be fine in rock, actually, but not if depth or emotional engagement is sacrificed. It may be that I’m being unfair to judge Ono’s experimental music by my more traditional electronic-pop/dance standards, but they are the only standards I have, and as far as experimentalism goes, Brian Eno, Public Image Ltd. and Ryuichi Sakamoto just happen to sit a lot better.
As far as electro-dance on its own merits, the best-sounding mixes here are both from Pet Shop Boys, especially their paranoid-sounding (it does, I swear) “Electro Mix.” Their extended dance mix also stands out, but just like the Boys own material of late, it has the problem of being more moving to the feet than the heart.
As a song, I think “Walking On Thin Ice” is a lot less complex than Ono apologists might like us to believe (which may well be why it was her most successful); in any form, it remains more clashing than electrifying. Yet, it must be admitted that even the least of the mixes here fits nicely in my multi-CD changer with Dot Allison’s burble-bop, Depeche Mode’s synth pop and even some old school tracks like “Planet Rock.”
Is this remix project likely to acquire Ono new fans or revitalize her singing/songwriting career? Up until recently, I would have said no, or least, probably not, although it is both interesting and consistent (in both good and bad senses). However, I have just learned that the record has gotten to the top spot on Billboard’s dance charts. Perhaps, after all, this will encourage taking a new listen to Yoko Ono, and that ain’t all bad. Even if, to me, she does appear doomed to always sound like she’s an intruder. With any collaborator.
Mind Train Records: http://www.mindtrainrecords.com/