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V/A - Famous When Dead III

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Artist: V/A

Album: Famous When Dead III

Label: Playhouse

Review date: Apr. 14, 2004

Famous When Dead III collects tracks from the redoubtable Playhouse label’s 2002 and 2003 roster. A good portion of the compilation leads you to wonder – why aren’t Playhouse quite as exalted as peers such as Kompakt and Areal? The first half hour or so of Famous When Dead III makes a strong case for Playhouse as the label when it comes to derivations from the post-Cologne minimal house ferment, particularly as both Spektrum and Rework scan further back and faster: Spektrum drawing on early 80s disco-not-disco, and Rework turning electro into a cranky, unwieldy and strangely charming old beast.

The definitive tracks on Famous When Dead III come from familiar names – Isolée’s “Can’t Sleep All Night” invokes the restlessness of the title (or is this deprivation through lust’s excesses?) by tossing and turning like an insomniac trying desperately to source the perfect moment to finally give in to sleep’s decorous drive. And Villalobos’ “Easy Lee,” the opening track from his Alcachofa album, still sounds as pendulous as ever, like starter oil slowly dripping off of stalactites, with Ricardo V.’s vocoder text humming through the song like the pulsations of some impossibly vibrant atomic core. There are also great, definitive tracks from Tejada and Leviste, and Thomas Melchior, but not everything on Famous When Dead III works – when Playhouse allows their artists to hover too close to tribute activity or cheese-ball humor, things go a little awry. The Visitors’ “No under on the Ground” slipped straight off the back of a bad ’80s disco 12”, although I do enjoy their declaration/confession, in the liner notes, that there were “No samples used!” (so there’s no excuse then, is there?). Khan’s Captain Comatose side-project has always been underwhelming, and the clumsy, uninspired “$100,” replete with a vocalist sounding like Jamie Lidell after a character bypass operation, sees little change on that front. When Playhouse stumbles, they do so spectacularly. Perhaps that answers our earlier question about the subcultural stature of Playhouse: they’re simply not quite as reliable as an Areal or Perlon.

Label staple Peter Kremeier, a.k.a. Losoul, bookends the compilation. “International Snootleg” sees International Pony copping the vocals from Losoul’s 2002 production “Warriors” and hooking them to a shuffle beat that stays slinky, even when the Pony crew subject it to hoover riffs and blurts of mangled noise. And Kremeier’s remix of Khan and Julee Cruise’s “Say Goodbye” is one of the crown jewels of the Playhouse catalogue. Kremeier brings the original track’s pop nous out into the light, as Cruise’s lambent paean to devotion and rejection incongruously pirouettes over Kremeier’s light-headed remix.

The triple vinyl pack of Famous When Dead III brings slightly different pleasures, with “Easy Lee” replaced by an Isolée remix of Villalobos’ “What You Say is More Than I Can Say,” and the addition of an early Playhouse single – Acid Test’s “Test One,” from 1997. Produced by Roman Flügel, it’s an interesting history lesson, as it shows the massive strides taken by the Playhouse label in the intervening seven years. But the CD strikes me as the definitive document, capturing the Playhouse philosophy – good, bad and ugly – in full bloom.

By Jon Dale

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