Sharps and Flats is a weekly music review.

Published February 13, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Those studio concoctions known as remixes are usually designed to blast through a club full of trendy urbanites and braying supermodels. A remixed version of a familiar song can be an improvement -- compare DNA's hit remake of "Tom's Diner" to Suzanne Vega's a cappella original -- but often they're colder and harsher, difficult to listen to during daylight hours. "Telegram" is essentially a re-recorded, newly sequenced version of Bjvrk's 1995 album "Post," and not surprisingly, it isn't as entrancing as its source.

Born in Iceland but based in London, Bjvrk may look like a Nordic pixie, but her voice is bold and frankly sexual. Technically she's a dance artist, but she's as comfortable singing ballads with strings, or combining Latin rhythms and jazzy horn arrangments in a hybrid closer to world music than pop. "Post" is an album of oddly beautiful sounds -- a pedal steel guitar drifting out of nowhere, a bass rumble that resembles an advancing tank -- and primal emotions like desire, fear and anger. On "Army of Me," she warns a sniveling ragdoll of a lover, "You're on your own now/We won't save you/Your rescue squad is too exhausted."

Bjvrk's name may appear on the CD booklet, but "Telegram" really belongs to the producers (Mark Bell, Dillinja and Eumir Deodato among others) who reimagine nine "Post" songs with uneven results. Graham Massey's version of "Army of Me" is the sort of remix that gives the term a bad name. Instead of a blunt but funny ultimatum ("Complain once more and you'll meet an army of me"), Massey strip-mines the song of vocals and builds his own icy model around a fat bass line and chilly air siren. More successful is "Hyper-ballad," on which the Brodsky Quartet upends remix logic by replacing a jittery dance beat with a sad, furious string arrangement.

Unfortunately, for every remix that adds warmth or a kind of surreal depth (like the other-worldly vocals on LFO's "Possibly Maybe"), there are two that meander at the pace of an old Soviet science fiction movie. In its original version, "Cover Me" is a plea sung to the backing of harpsichord and hammered dulcimer. Here, it's interpreted as a rhythm-heavy instrumental with only a few incidental vocals. And Mika Vainio takes the intimate pleasure described in "Headphones" (about a woman lulled to sleep by her boyfriend's homemade tape) and turns it into a six-and-a-half minute crawl of electronic effects.

Besides "Hyper-ballad," the best track is the album's one new song, "My Spine," on which Bjork's amazing voice is paired with Evelyn Glennie playing exhaust pipes that could pass for an artfully struck set of chimes. Unfortunately, this sort of human-scale experimentation is rare, merely demonstrating what a dubious idea it is to replace the strong personality of a distinctive artist with the dehumanized chill of studio wizards.

By Keith Moerer

Keith Moerer is a regular contributor to Salon.

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