James Poole

I’m conflicted here

I’m conflicted.

Much has been written over the past few days about the ‘collaboration’ (read: ‘remix project’) between Jamie out of The xx and Gil Scott-Heron. On paper this sounds magnificent. Gil Scott-Heron’s first album in 16 years – the frankly staggering ‘I’m New Here’ – being re-worked by someone with their finger right on the pulse. The news doubtless confused a swathe of fans of The xx, born in the 90s. Who is Gil Scott-Heron? Sod the revolution being televised, can I catch it on YouTube? He’s filed in the jazz section – what on earth is going on?

For me, the news was immediately exciting. I’ve gone on record about my admiration for all things Gil Scott-Heron. He wrote ‘Pieces of a Man’; one of the most devastating pieces of music you’ll ever hear. He wrote ‘The Bottle’; socially conscious funk which hit the nail bang on the head. He wrote ‘A Lovely Day’; a song which only serves to make you smile – you literally can’t be anything but happy on hearing it. I’ve just put it on now as I write. And I am smiling already. It’s a reaction which would make Pavlov’s dog proud.

And, The xx. A band for right now. Deserving winners of the Mercury Prize, and darlings of the UK music scene for 2010. I wasn’t on board at first, but by Christ, I am now. Their album is wonderful. Kids like them! Adults like them! They are popular AND good!

‘We’re New Here’ – the remix project – comes pre-loaded with promise, and more than a little underground hype. I want to love it. I want it to deliver. Based on the initial track – a reworking of ‘New York Is Killing Me’, I’m not convinced. I just hope that I’m wrong.

Here’s my problem. Both The xx debut AND tracks from Gil Scott-Heron’s latest album have already been re-worked. Independently, they are brilliant – and the re-works show what can be accomplished with some ingenuity, and a desire to add something extra.

The xx album has been re-worked, bringing in Notorious B.I.G. – I thought it sounded like a hideous concept. It works so bloody well. Likewise, ‘New York Is Killing Me’ has already been treated to versions which bring in Nas, and another with Mos Def. They are great, great tracks.

My problem with Gil Scott-Heron by way of The xx is simple – it’s just a banal beat, stripping away the very core of the original tune. It’s lifeless. It’s a bit of an insult to the source material. Nothing extra has been added – it’s more an exercise in taking stuff away.

In light of being wrong about The xx in the past, I’ll reserve my final judgment.

Am I wrong? Am I just missing the point? Take a look below…

I sincerely hope that ‘I’m wrong here’.