Intriguing reconstruction of late guitar genius by English techno-dance troupe
In 1994, a couple of years before the legacy of Jimi Hendrix was handed back to the guitarist’s family, the then current curator of the Hendrix estate, Alan Douglas, approved the release of one of the most unique tributes to the late guitar genius one is ever likely to hear. Produced by British Techno-Dance outfit Beautiful People, If 60’s Were 90’s (a reference to Jimi’s song “If Six Was Nine” one assumes) consisted of samples taken from a myriad of studio and live recordings spanning the last four years of Hendrix’s career.
Whether Douglas granted the electronic quintet access to any of the original tapes, or simply allowed them to take snippets from existing albums this listener cannot comment on, except to say that regardless of the process employed, the result is a strange and complex collage which simply has to be heard to be believed.
But it isn’t all Jimi. Beautiful People have also interwoven synths, modern drum beats and backing harmonies to compliment the multifarious patchwork quilt constructed via Hendrix’s own guitar riffs, vocals and other musical ephemera in order to craft entirely new compositions.
This “Frankenstein” approach any long time Hendrix fan would no doubt baulk at, yet for the most part, it actually works. Opener “Comin’ To Get You” alone consists of samples taken from “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” the more obscure “Peace In Mississippi,” “I Don’t Live Today,” and “Foxy Lady.” It’s a weird hybrid to be sure, and not much of a song at all, more a dance-acid piece replete with splashes of screeching feedback and solos looping endlessly around each other.
Now anyone who complained about Alan Douglas’ methods used for the creation of 1975’s Crash Landing LP, might well be horrified by “Get Your Mind Together,” consisting of bits of “EXP,” “1983…” and “Spanish Castle Magic” all spliced, diced, and re-pasted together to form one contentious ugly mess. Better is the title track, “If 60’s Were 90’s,” where elements of “Voodoo Chile” and “If 6 Was 9” add considerable atmosphere to an ambient relaxing beat.
“Rilly Groovy,” based around the main riff of a 1970 recording of the funky “Bleeding Heart,” was a big hit on the Hot Dance Club Chart, while “Stone Crazy” is the sort of laboratory experiment that represents all that’s good and bad about the record, namely intelligent ideas that generally outstay their welcome after about a minute or two. But it isn’t all terrible – some tracks actually warrant more than just the one listen. “Feel The Heat,” the moody, late-night “Happiness On The Wind,” and final track “The Sea… Eventually” are intelligently crafted and expertly blended, although sitting in one’s living room isn’t the same as being in a dance club.
Depending on how much of a purist you really are, three potential reactions are possible: love, hate, or ‘yeah, not bad.’ This listener probably sits more in the latter category, meaning that while it is fun to hear all the disparate bits and pieces jumbled together, ultimately If 60’s Were 90’s cannot compensate nor truly represent the actual intentions, much less ambitions, of the original composer. But then, as a pure dance album, perhaps it was never meant to. Just so long as it got Jimi’s music (or parts of it at least) back in the charts, which is arguably all that mattered, or at least back in the early 90’s.
If 60’s Were 90’s remains an inspired yet flawed document which, despite good intentions, and the talents of its creators, any serious and self-respecting Hendrix devotee is unlikely to revisit any time soon.