Remember back in 1998 when Gus Van Sant remade Psycho? That wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. Lots of things get the remake treatment. Van Sant’s version only raised a fuss because it was practically a shot-for-shot remake of the original, with very little changed. It was perceived as a sweet—although odd—gesture, more homage than remake. Ultimately, though, people asked the question, “What was wrong with the original?” Hitchcock’s thriller remains a classic. Van Sant’s changeling has been relegated to being nothing more than a curiosity.
There is a grave similarity between that project and Blancmange’s Happy Families too… which is original band member Neil Arthur’s complete re-recording of their breakthrough album, Happy Families. Originally recorded in 1982, that album included the band’s first big hit, “Living on the Ceiling.” It may not be a classic album, but it is a solid effort with very little filler.
Arthur’s wish was to “approach the songs using today’s technology.” This is an admirable goal; it’s like buying new clothes for a favorite child. But as science has taught us, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
The modern technology employed here exists only to attempt to recreate the sound of synthesizers from 1982. It’s difficult to comprehend why one would try so hard to make something new sound old, when you already have an old record that sounds like how you want the new record to sound like. Does that make sense?
The songs are as strong as they ever were, though, and that is the saving grace of this musical experiment. “Living on the Ceiling” is still a strong example of British New Wave. Even without the sound of waves, “Waves” is still one of Blancmange’s best songs. The final track of the original album, “God’s Kitchen,” is a clever game of hide and seek with the Almighty. The inclusion of “Running Thin” is welcome, providing a somber note of closure.
There are four remixes included, all of them of the R2-D2 variety, lots of beeps and boops that, in the end add nothing to the songs but time. In fact, none of the new instrumentation adds anything to the songs. It remains very like the source material. The songs that were great are still great. The songs that weren’t so great are not made any better by using ProTools or any of the other new studio inventions.
Essentially, Happy Families too… is exactly as good as Happy Families. The differences between the two products are marginal, and the re-orchestrations and meddling will probably do more to upset longtime Blancmange fans than please them. Again, we are forced to ask, what was wrong with the original Happy Families that a good remastering and clean up wouldn’t have cured? It was such a great time in music history that attempting any kind of revisionism seems to be pointless, if not a little shameful.
It’s not that I don’t recommend Happy Families too… It’s illogical to say you enjoyed one version and not the other. Unfortunately, while the original 1982 album will continue to be viewed as a minor classic, Happy Families too… may be relegated to being a mere curiosity.
Happy Families too… was released April 7 via Cherry Red Records.