The Mix Review: 10th Anniversary Retrospective!
I reckon it’s fair to say I’m a creature of habit, and a lot of my professional life seems to consist of recurring monthly tasks. I suppose you could trace this rhythm to my time as Reviews Editor for Sound On Sound magazine – it was 15 years ago now, but I still seem to be the locked into the same monthly deadline cycle!
And what amazes me is how these recurring jobs, despite seeming fairly manageable at the time, somehow accumulate into behemoth resources, almost without me noticing! It feels like I’ve just been scurrying from one deadline to the next for a while, when suddenly I turn round and notice there’s a pile of two dozen Session Notes articles sitting there. Or three dozen Project Studio Tea Break episodes. Or sixty-odd Mix Rescue remixes and Cambridge-MT Patrons Podcasts. Or 450 projects in the 'Mixing Secrets' Free Multitrack Download Library. To be honest, it boggles my tiny mind.
And nowhere more so than with The Mix Review, where I’ve been critiquing commercial music releases from a production perspective for a full ten years now. It’s always just been one of those little chores I’ll chunter through at the start of each month: you know, check the UK/US charts and any industry awards, import a bunch of those tracks into my DAW, and try to find something sensible to say about them. Yet here I am now contemplating an archive of more than 500 critiques and wondering how the hell I managed to write a quarter of a million words! Perhaps it’s no concidence that one of my favourite sayings is from the Tao Te Ching: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
It all started back in 2011, when The Mix Review column first hit the news stands in the Sound On Sound’s April issue, with Steinberg’s brand-new Cubase 6 splashed across the cover and Bruno Mars, Ellie Goulding, and Matt Cardle (who?) as my first victims. A couple of years later, the wonderful Matt Houghton (my successor as SOS Reviews Editor) suggested adding critiques of classic tracks, so March 2013’s column kicked things off with ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’. Then last year I made the big transition from monthly-print to weekly-blog format, as well as moving all the critiques to their new interactive and searchable home at TheMixReview.org.
And here we are, 10 years down the line, with The Mix Review still going strong. It’s not the kind of milestone that happens every day, so I’ve decided to celebrate with a bit of a retrospective, taking in some of the highs, lows, and pure head-scratchers I’ve encountered along the way.
I’m particularly grateful to The Mix Review for keeping me from falling into the reactionary cliché of “music was better in the good old days”. While researching the Classic Mix every month, I often ended up trawling through piles of dreadful (and thankfully long-since-forgotten) releases by era contemporaries, which served as a strong reminder that there was no less dross in the past as there is now! Plus each new year of releases continues to deliver a handful of truly exciting new productions that instantly feel like the classics of the future.
The most thrilling of these for me, without a doubt, was Billie Eilish’s first UK top-ten hit, ‘Bury A Friend’, which I wrote about just before her album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? came out and promptly devoured the industry! It’s the time I’ve most felt I’m living through some kind of historical watershed, the way I imagine all those hair-metallers did when Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ blew up in 1992. (I still haven’t quite trusted myself to tackle a critique of that track. One of these days…) And I’m naturally delighted that my concerns about her future seem to have been misplaced, as she and her brother remain both well grounded and as brilliant as ever – at least if the evidence of their recent Grammy Record Of The Year ‘Everything I Wanted’ is anything to go by.
But there have been plenty of other releases that, for me, immediately earned their place in the production Hall Of Fame. I’m thinking about the arrangement alchemy of Caro Emerald’s ‘A Night Like This’, Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’, Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, Labrinth’s ‘Let It Be’, and Lana Del Rey’s ‘Video Games’. Or the pop brilliance of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’, Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’, Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’, and Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’. Or the sheer sound-design bravado of Flume’s ‘Never Be Like You’ and Skrillex’s ‘Bangarang’.
And when I consider specific facets of production, loads of other examples spring to mind. The superlative rhythm sections on Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now’ and Kirk Franklin’s ‘Love Theory’. The strings on Radiohead’s ‘Burn The Witch’ and Sierra Hull’s ‘25 Trips’. The beautifully managed build-up of Lady Antebellum’s ‘We Owned The Night’. The layered and effected vocal confections on Dev’s ‘Bass Down Low’, Lorde’s ‘Royals’, and Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ – and on lots of of Billie Eilish’s tracks too, of course!
And, speaking of Billie Eilish, she also gave us easily the boldest arrangment stunt with those ’tone on its own’ moments in ‘Bury A Friend’, but there were plenty of other honourable mentions. I loved the beat-one drop-outs in Imagine Dragons’ ‘Believer’ and Selena Gomez’s ‘Lose You To Love Me’, for instance, and tempo-stretching tricks were an ear-catching calling card of both Fun’s ‘We Are Young’ and Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’. There were surprising arrangement transitions aplenty too, from the sheer shock value of Alex Clare’s ‘Too Close’ and Kanye West’s ‘Mercy’, to the inverted verse-chorus dynamics of Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’. And my prize for Fill Of The Decade has to go to that inspired unison riff during the outro of ‘Uptown Funk’!
Granted, those do all pale in comparison with the majesty of ‘Baby Shark’… :)
SONICS & ATTITUDE
As you might expect, I have a special place in my heart for those productions with the most gorgeous pure sonics. On the acoustic side of things, there have been gems like Alison Krauss & Union Station’s ‘Paper Airplane’, Michael Kiwanuka’s ‘Home Again’, and Sarah Jarosz’s ‘Take Me Back’, showcasing the quality and character of stellar recordings. But there have also been more obviously ‘mixed’ delights such as Coldplay’s ‘Magic’, I’m With Her’s ‘Call My Name’, Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Butterflies’, and Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’.
In the EDM space, it was often the kick drum that knocked my socks off, with tracks like Calvin Harris’ ‘Bounce’, Marshmello’s ‘Happier’, and Sak Noel’s ‘Loca People’ leading the charge. In other cases, it was the combination of kick and bass that made the biggest impression, as in DJ Regard’s ‘Ride It’, Nero’s ‘Guilt’, and Topic & A7s’ ‘Breaking Me’ – and there were many hip-hop tracks that also scored well in this respect, such as Anderson Paak’s ‘Lockdown’, Arizona Zervas’ ‘Roxanne’, and Stormzy’s ‘Big For Your Boots’. Some pop tracks shone at the low end too, from the efficient power of Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now’ to the sophisticated low-end layering of Ariana Grande’s ‘Side To Side’ and Christine And The Queens’ ‘Tilted’.
I’m probably biased, as a singer myself, but it was the vocal production that most often caused releases to really stand out for me. In some cases, a virtuoso lead performance pretty much carried the whole record on its own, as in Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’, David Guetta’s ‘Without You’, or Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’, while tracks such as Alabama Shake’s ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’, Sam And The Womp’s ‘Bom Bom’, and Tones and I’s ‘Dance Monkey’ added a potent dash of “what they hell was that?!” to the recipe. And let’s not forget those inspired speech sections in Meduza’s ‘Piece Of Your Heart’ and Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’.
But, as a bit of a vocal-production nerd, I’ve also singled out some of my favourite vocal editing jobs over the years, including Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’, Lorde’s ‘Green Light’, and Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’ – as well as those rare modern productions (such as Blossoms’ ‘Charlemagne’ and Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Joke’) that make a virtue of the singer’s unbuffed authenticity. I’ve enjoyed some tremendous mixed vocal timbres too. For female vocals, there have been shining examples from Alan Walker’s ‘Faded’, Hailee Steinfeld & Grey’s ‘Starving’, I’m With Her’s ‘Call My Name’, and Mavis Staples’ ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’, while male singers have showcased similarly enviable mix tones on James Arthur’s ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’, Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’, and Topic & A7s’ ‘Breaking Me’.
As much as we producers might not like to admit it, though, there are some songs that can bowl you over with sheer attitude, irrespective of sonic considerations. In The Mix Review, Royal Blood’s ‘Figure It Out’ was probably the first to do it back in December 2014, but has since been joined by a select group of others including Alabama Shakes’ ‘Don’t Wanna Fight’, Anderson Paak’s ‘Room In Here’, Fantastic Negrito’s ‘The Duffler’, and Idles’ ‘Grounds’.
RAISING AN EYEBROW…
So clearly I’ve had the pleasure of critiquing some truly splendid productions over the past decade, but every silver lining has a cloud, so to speak, and numerous music releases have prompted me to raise a quizzical eyebrow. As I see it, though, the exercise of challenging specific production decisions and asking why they were successful (or not!) arguably makes those critiques more valuable from an educational perspective.
In some cases, I had questions about mic technique. How did Hilary Hahn end up with such an unstable stereo image in her recording of Christos Hatzis’ ‘Coming To’? Why did the cymbals seem so much closer than the snare and toms on Chick Corea’s ‘Fingerprints’? And how come the guitar was bassier than the piano on The Pablo Ziegler Trio’s ‘Blues Porteno’?
The low end was another common point of contention. For instance, it puzzled me that the sub-bass components in Justin Bieber’s ‘Boyfriend’, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Doin’ Time’, and Rihanna’s ‘What’s My Name’ didn’t quite match the song harmonies, while the sub-bass in Post Malone’s ‘Circles’ seemed oddly detached from the main bass part. There was strange panning too, with the bass and kick of Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’ nudged in opposite directions, and the sub-bass components in Mabel’s ‘Finders Keepers’ and Rudimental’s ‘Feel The Love’ both veering off to one side. But Chase & Status’ ‘Blind Faith’ probably took the cake, with the low end of its left and right channels unmatched both in terms of level and phase.
Another recurring issue was vocal editing. Copy-paste tactics came under scrutiny in Cardi B’s ‘Bodak Yellow’, Lorde’s ‘Royals’, and Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’, for example, while clunky edit-points were spotlighted in Adele’s ‘Skyfall’, Pitbull’s ‘Give Me Everything’, and The Wanted’s ‘Glad You Came’. Even the breaths proved noteworthy in Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’, Eminem’s ‘Lucky You’, Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone You Loved’, and Tom Odell’s ‘Another Love’.
One of my most regular bugbears was ham-fisted pitch-correction (see Adele’s ‘Hello’, Nathan Evans’ ‘Wellerman’, Paul McCartney’s ‘My Valentine’, Rag ’n’ Bone Man’s ‘Human’, and The Saturdays’ ‘30 Days’ for just a few woeful examples), but I also explored some of the more creative applications of pitch processing on Future’s ‘Mask Off’, Lil Baby & Gunna’s ‘Drip Too Hard’, Mabel’s ‘Don’t Call Me Up’, Mist’s ‘So High’, Sam Smith’s ‘How Do You Sleep’, and Sheck Wes’ ‘Mo Bamba’. (Other more general issues of tuning and timing arose as well. Why was Paloma Faith’s ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ about 35 cents sharp of concert pitch, for instance? And were the pitch and groove vagaries in Calvin Harris’ ‘One Kiss’ and Jonas Blue’s ‘Rise’ actually a net benefit?)
Of course, most modern music relies on robust lyric transmission, but tracks like Ariana Grande’s ‘No Tears Left To Cry’, Bon Iver’s ‘Calgary’, and Meduza’s ‘Piece Of Your Heart’ just left me guessing what the words actually were. To be fair, Niall Horan’s ‘Slow Hands’ and Saint Jhn’s ‘Roses (Imanbek Remix)’ did make me wonder whether such semantic vagueness might be a positive thing – although not in the case of the amusingly masked phonemes in Lost Frequencies, Zonderling & Kelvin Jones’ ‘Love To Go’ and Zedd & Alessia Cara’s ‘Stay’!
It’s probably no surprise that loudness processing frequently came up in my critiques, given the preponderance of chart releases. For instance, I compared how releases such as Cher Lloyd’s ‘With Ur Love’, DJ Snake’s ‘Turn Down For What’, and Imagine Dragons’ ‘Radioactive’ used clipping-based tactics better than Dr Dre’s ‘Talking To My Diary’, Marshmello’s ‘Silence’, and Post Malone’s ‘Wow’. As loudness-normalised streaming took greater hold on the industry, I started to see signs of producers trying to game that system as well, for example on Little Mix’s ‘Woman Like Me’, Portugal The Man’s ‘Feel It Still’, and Rudimental’s ‘These Days’. But it was also intriguing to encounter mainstream releases with wider dynamic range, such as Little Mix’s ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ or Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk’, and to ponder the thinking behind that choice. And there were numerous other mastering questions besides. Why did the output ceiling vary during The Foo Fighters ‘Rope’ and Ingrid Andress’ ‘More Hearts Than Mine’? Was the mix of Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ clipped before it was sent to the mastering engineer? And how come the album version of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’ is louder, brighter, less subby, and more vocal-heavy than the single, rather than the other way around?
In a similar vein, I often tackled the subject of mix translation head-on, for example in my critiques of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Stronger’, Pink’s ‘Blow Me’, and Post Malone’s ‘Rockstar’. Small-speaker low-end transmission was a common focus, as in my critiques of Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’, Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now’, Fetty Wap’s ‘Trap Queen’, and Marshmello’s ‘Happier’, while mono-compatibility concerns were the primary concern with Armin Van Buuren’s ‘This Is What It Feels Like’, Magic’s ‘Rude’, and Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’. Vocal translation came up as well, particularly in relation to Rod Stewart’s ‘Please’, Tim McGraw’s ‘Humble And Kind’, and Zara Larsson’s ‘I Would Like’.
All that tech-talk notwithstanding, I’ve always considered the term ‘production’ to cover composition, arrangement, and performance matters too. As such, I singled out the harmonies in Adele’s ‘Skyfall’, Selena Gomez’s ‘Lose You To Love Me’, and Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Drivers License’ for particular praise, while remaining ambivalent about Aloe Blacc’s ‘The Man’, Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’, and Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ in that respect. And I still can’t decide what key The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’ is in…
Melodic and rhythmic structures have come under the microscope too, as in Biffy Clyro’s ‘Wolves Of Winter’, Clean Bandit’s ‘I Miss You’, David Guetta’s ‘Who’s That Chick?’, and Ellie Goulding’s ‘Love Me Like You Do’. But it’s the structural questions that have perhaps been most perplexing. Why are all six choruses of Doja Cat’s ‘Say So’ pretty much identical? What is the chorus in Harry Styles’ ‘Lights Up’? Why does the first half of Future’s ‘Life Is Good’ have so little in common with the second half? And how did Armin Van Buuren manage to get away with constructing his trance hit ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ almost entirely out of three-and-a-half-bar sections?
Plus there have been lots of fun little discoveries besides. That the CD version of Labrinth’s ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ sounded like it had been mastered from MP3. That Macca’s vocal seemed to have been airburshed out of his ‘FourFiveSeconds’ collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna. That the choir conductor appears to be singing along with the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust Choir on ‘A Bridge Over You’. I couldn’t help a certain amount of speculation either! What might be the commercial ramifications of classifying Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ as a country track? Were Dermot Kennedy’s lyrics in ‘Outnumbered’ and ‘Giants’ written specifically to showcase his Irish accent? Was the outro of Taylor Swift’s ‘Willow’ designed as a built-in karaoke version? And how do we know that the ’live’ video of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Say Something’ wasn’t actually buffed to kingdom come in the studio?
REDISCOVERING THE CLASSICS
Initially I was a bit reluctant to start writing about classic mixes, because I imagined there’d be very little to say beyond “Hey, isn’t it great!”. It can be startling, though, to discover how unconventional many classic tracks are, once you start poking around under the hood. Take the seven-bar verses in The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ or the 19-bar verses in Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘Is This Love’, or the total lack of four-bar phrases in the first three minutes of The Scorpions’ ‘Wind Of Change’. All vanishingly rare devices, but nothing that ever previously seemed unusual to me as a casual listener.
I was also a bit worried, in this age of limitless internet punditry, that there’d be nothing new to say about such iconic productions. What I found, though, was that most commentators had tended to focus mostly on headline characteristics, which left plenty more to be discovered. So I had free rein to talk about mix effects, synth arrangement, and vocal balancing in Cher’s ‘Believe’, for example, because everyone else spent all their time talking about the notorious Auto-Tune effect. Likewise there was lots more to Paul Hardcastle’s hit ‘19’ than its famous speech sampling, and I discovered that the famous guitar solos in The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ and Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ seemed to have given most people a blindspot for other highlights such as the former’s bass part and the latter’s modulations.
Overfamiliarity with classic tracks can desensitise us to how odd some of them sound too. The way the guitars in The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’ are mono, but the drums are stereo, for example. Or the fact that the instruments in Miles Davis’ ‘So What’ and The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Take Five’ are panned, but the reverb’s in mono. I was amazed how distorted the vocals were on Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, and The Righteous Brothers’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, and I’d also forgotten that Alanis Morissette’s ‘Ironic’ and The Monkees’ ‘I’m A Believer’ both have their lead singers panned off-centre. And if you really listen to the drums on Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’, and The Scorpions’ ‘Wind Of Change, you’ll find weird and contradictory sonics in all of them.
Another worry of mine was that analysing classic tracks might be a bit dispiriting, because they usually set such high musical standards. So it was somehow reassuring to find lots of little reminders that real human beings were involved! Like the bass player who clearly hit a wrong note in Harry Belfonte’s ‘Day-O (Banana Boat Song)’, or who missed a note in Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s ‘You’re The One That I Want’. Or the backing vocalists who disagreed with Tom Jones about the lyrics of ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and outstayed their welcome on Des O’Connor’s ‘I Pretend’. And then there were the weak chord progressions in Gerry And The Pacemakers’ ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ that weren’t just noticed by me, but also by the many artists who changed them for later cover versions!
Sometimes the mics captured stuff they probably shouldn’t have too, such as Sting accidentally sitting on the piano keyboard in The Police’s ‘Roxanne’, a door(?) creaking in The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’, and what sounds like the Fugees’ answering machine going off in the background of ‘Killing Me Softly’! I’ve also been heartened to hear that tuning difficulties are by no means a modern invention, judging by Fats Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’, The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’, and T’Pau’s ‘China In Your Hand’…
Personally, it’s been fascinating for me in particular to hear evidence of the historic studio processes involved in these records. The momentary ghostly vocal double-track that gives away the vocal overdub on The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’. The sounds of well-documented mic placements on the sessions for Glenn Gould’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ and The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Take Five’. The in-room choreography used to rebalance The Ink Spots’ ‘If I Didn’t Care’ and to adjust reverb levels in Harry Belafonte’s ‘Day-O (Banana Boat Song)’. The creative fader rides in David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ – and the mildly panicky-sounding ones in Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ and Domenico Modugno’s ‘Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)’! Investigating some of the audible edits was informative as well, identifying copied sections in David Bowie’s ‘Starman’, Fats Domino’s ‘Blueberry Hill’, and Mungo Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’, for instance. And not all of those edits were exactly above reproach, either, if you read my critiques of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Genie In A Bottle’, The Police’s ‘Roxanne’, and The Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’.
What has honestly appalled me over the past few years, though, is how cavalier many record labels seem to be about remastering and remixing their celebrated back-catalogue. It took me ages to find a half-faithful version of Juliette Gréco’s ‘Si Tu T’Imagines’, The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’ and Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’, for instance. And more modern records like Bob Marley & The Wailers’ ‘Is This Love’ and Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ also appear to have been subjected to bizarre and inexplicable alterations for subsequent rereleases. Of course, some records have multiple versions by design, and comparing some of those was eye-opening, for example the Spike Stent and Dave Way mixes of The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’, or the single and album versions of Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’.
Oh, and it has to be said that some of those classic videos are hysterical! Check out the box-fresh Courtney Cox dancing with Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’. And the ridiculous ‘drenched band’ trope in Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’. And especially Van Halen’s peerless video for ‘Jump’, which honestly looks like a pre-release out-take from This Is Spinal Tap!
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
No survey of the first decade of The Mix Review would be complete, however, without a brief tour of its House Of Horrors – those productions that genuinely made me wince. There were sonics that were hard to love in Paloma Faith’s ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ and Rebecca Ferguson’s ‘Nothing’s Real But Love’, for instance, while Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper’s ‘Shallow’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Memories’ both irked me with their smug slathering of crowd noise. For the most part, though, it was usually less technical elements of the production that really got my goat.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m not normally too fussed about lyrics, but even I blanched at the word-crimes of Alexis Jordan’s ‘Good Girl’, Madonna’s ‘Girl Gone Wild’, and Lawson’s ‘Taking Over Me’. Neither was I impressed with the lyrical machine-gunning of Logic’s ‘Homicide’ or the lazy ’tonight’ clichés in Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ and Zac Efron & Zendaya’s ‘Rewrite The Stars’. There were some pretty low-bar arrangements too, from tracks like Ella Mai’s ‘Trip’, Rita Ora’s ‘R.I.P.’, and Tones and I’s ‘Dance Monkey’, as well as a fine example of ‘consonant sludge’ from Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’. Joel Cory even managed the remarkable feat of making his cover of Monsta Boy’s ‘Sorry (I Didn’t Know)’ sound cheaper and more dated than the 20-year-old original! But at least his work wasn’t as cynically parasitic as Kygo’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, Maroon 5’s ‘Memories’, and The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘The Time (Dirty Bit)’, all of them unimaginatively piggybacking on the musical hooks of their betters.
And, speaking of cynical, I couldn’t help railing against the orchestral reissue of Elvis’ ‘Love Me Tender’ (and indeed the more-or-less redundant live strings on Justin Timberlake’s ‘Mirrors’) for wasting enormous budgets that might have financed dozens of more interesting indie records. My eyes also rolled at Fifth Harmony’s ‘sincere flattery’ of Daniel Bedingfield’s ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ on their single ‘Work From Home’ – although I notice that the song’s Wikipedia article now gives Bedingfield a writing credit (unlike the original European release I critiqued), so I imagine lawyers have been busy in the meantime… No copyright concerns for Meduza and Goodboys, though, who both independently ripped off their own hit ‘Piece Of Your Heart’ for the subsequent singles ‘Lose Control’ and (with crushing irony) ‘Unfamiliar’.
However, amongst all the songs I’ve critiqued for The Mix Review in the past decade, my personal lowlight has got to be The Kid Laroi’s recent ‘Without You’, a production I hated so much that it was only rescued from a Worst Of All Time accolade by that timeless paragon of sheer awfulness, Jewel’s ‘Pieces Of You’…
Not that I’m any kind of saint myself, and I’ve certainly made my fair share of goofs over the years as well! It seems like only yesterday, in fact, that I wrongly credited Jeff Porcaro for drums on Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, for instance, and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve confused ‘iv’ and ‘vi’ when writing about chord progressions. Indeed, one of the benefits of The Mix Review’s rebirth in digital form has been that I can now more easily correct these all-too-human flubs. That said, I’ve occasionally been asked to change things that warranted no correction at all, most memorably by Pentatonix fans incensed at my suggestion that tuning correction had been used on their single ‘Mary Did You Know’. I was genuinely touched that so many readers of The Mix Review leapt to my defence at that time, but it was probably Sound On Sound’s interview with long-time Pentatonix producer Ed Boyer a few months later that definitively put the matter to rest.
Other than that, there’s a been a smattering of wider recognition for The Mix Review over the years – in fact, it’s been a bit weird seeing myself occasionally getting referenced on Wikipedia these days! More flattering, however, have been those occasional tips of the hat I’ve had from some of the producers themselves, such as Russ Elevado and John Hanes. (There must surely be plenty of producers who’ve hated my articles too, but thankfully they seem to have kept their heads down thus far!)
REVIEWING THE FUTURE
So what does the future hold for The Mix Review? Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s full steam ahead into the second decade – maybe someday I can even start reposting early critiques as Classic Mixes! (On second thoughts, maybe I shouldn’t look forward to that, as I already felt ancient featuring Christina Aguilera’s ‘Genie In A Bottle’ as a Classic Mix, given that I interviewed its producer David Frank about it when it first came out.) To be honest, even if no-one read The Mix Review at all, I’d probably still keep writing it, because I actually learn loads from it myself. Above all, it frequently calls me out on my own limitations, challenging me to improve my day-to-day production work. It’s been sobering, for instance, to acknowledge that I’d probably have micromanaged the life out of Chris Stapleton’s fabulous ‘Either Way’ and overegged the arrangement of The Fugees’ ‘Killing Me Softly’. It’s also humbling to realise that the inspired creative leaps some producers make on record are things I’d never have come up with in a million years. And as for sonics – well, suffice to say that the mix-referencing process has become no less tortuous over the last ten years, on account of ever-more-splendid productions migrating from The Mix Review’s in-tray to my own referencing shortlist…
Speaking of which, over the past year or so I’ve been doing weekly Reference Of The Week posts for my [Cambridge-MT site patrons], revealing different commercial productions I use for referencing purposes and discussing specifically how I use each one. Well, I’ve recently put together a free ‘Five Reference Tracks For Low End’ e-book drawn from that series for members of my Small-studio Secrets mailing list. So if you’ve enjoyed The Mix Review, then you might want to check that article out too – plus you’ll get monthly updates about all the latest critiques into the bargain!