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"Remix Suite" salutes Michael Jackson

30 August 2009 14:51

As a tribute to Michael Jackson and his early work, an all-star group of music producers are putting new spins on the late pop star's catalog.

"Michael Jackson: The Remix Suite" features 25 remixes of Jackson's classic Motown material as a solo artist and with the Jackson 5, reinterpreted by such marquee producers as Chris "Tricky" Stewart, the Neptunes, Polow Da Don, Rodney Jerkins, Stargate and Paul Oakenfold.

Universal Motown Records will release the tracks gradually, in five-song digital bundles, before the physical album arrives October 27. Each bundle, beginning with the August 25 release of "The Remix Suite I," has been designed as an homage that emphasizes Jackson's influence on modern pop production.

"The Remix Suite" was spearheaded by Universal Motown president Sylvia Rhone, who opened the label's archives and asked each producer to remix a Jackson or Jackson 5 song that had inspired him. "We came up with a long list (of producers), expecting people to be unavailable," Rhone said. "But there was literally not one 'no' answer. People dropped everything they were doing to help out with this."

The final list is a diverse group, from reggae specialist Salaam Remi to house music guru Frankie Knuckles. Blink-182's Mark Hoppus said he was shocked that Universal Motown asked him to contribute a track, but added, "Just to be included in a project like this is a huge honor."

The remixes add modern production techniques to Jackson's songs while highlighting the elements that made them classics. Dallas Austin, whose remix of "I Wanna Be Where You Are" integrates fresh bass guitar and funky synthesizers, slightly altered the instrumentation in order to "futurize" the song and "see what it would sound like today." His take appears on the first bundle along with remixes by the Neptunes, Stargate, Remi and Polow Da Don.

Hoppus, meanwhile, wanted his version of "ABC" to capture the charm of Jackson's early career. "When we were working, there was such a reverence for the vocals," he recalled. "We tried to keep the spirit of that track, which is more youthful exuberance."

Other highlights include Stargate's electro-tinged remix of "Skywriter," Steve Aoki's stylish take on "Dancing Machine" (also covered by Polow Da Don) and Akon's heartfelt reimagining of "Ben." Remi also contributes a reggae remix of "ABC."

Jackson purists might question the validity of a remix album, but the set respects the pop star's legacy by highlighting the original melodies on each track. "(The remixes) just breathe new life into songs that you love," Austin said.

The main motivation for the collection, however, is to celebrate Jackson's influential work. And that's reflected in the producers' dedication to the project.

"Everyone brought their A-game, and we got this very broad, creative perspective," Rhone said. "We tried to make it a special tribute, and I think we far exceeded our expectations."

Reuters / Billboard / mjr