Label: Mute Format: 2CD
Only a few weeks ago I was bemoaning my shortage of Laibach material – just a couple of albums’ worth out of a repertoire that spans well over two decades – so I was more than a little chuffed when this new retrospective landed on my lap. This is not really an album for Laibach fans of long standing, given its near-lack of new material, but for the newcomer or the casual listener it’s an almost perfect historical perspective. Probably the only major omission is the absence of any of their very early material from before the suicide of original vocalist Tomaz Hostnik in 1982. Perhaps Mute were unable to obtain the rights to re-release any of this; the obsessive archivist may consider this to mar the compilation’s status as a biographical record.
In terms of popular appeal at least, Laibach are best known for taking the banalities of Rock music and making them their own, and this aspect of their career is well represented here. Their glorious interpretation of “Life is Life” by Austrian one-hit 80s wonders Opus is presented here in both the English and German versions, unnecessary perhaps, but effective; their radical totalitarian repurposing of Queen‘s “One Vision” (“Geburt Einer Nation” = birth of a nation) is even scarier, while the sci-fi disco of “The Final Countdown” still sounds like the War of the Worlds theme after all these years. I would have perhaps gone for “War” and “The Cross” over “In The Army Now” and “Get Back”, although that’s just a matter of personal taste, and anyway it would have spoilt the 60s double-whammy of the latter track and “Sympathy For The Devil”.
More than just a comedy covers band however, they have never been afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves either, and when they do it’s with a certain kind of tender affection that’s almost touching. Juno Reactor for example, as well as getting their own remix spot on disc two, are represented here by Laibach’s version of “God Is God” – which if I remember correctly, was released before the ‘original’ version. Nice one. And Laibach’s pretty faithful rendition of the much under-rated Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft‘s “Alle Gegen Alle” is paired up with their own “Tanz Mit Laibach”, which lovingly lampoons DAF’s “Der Mussolini” from the same album. (As an aside, the oppressive dance regime of “Tanz Mit Laibach” glorifies Ado Hinkel and Benino Napoloni, the caricatures that got Charlie Chaplin put on the Axis’s death list; this fact alone should explain Laibach’s sense of humour to anyone who still doesn’t get it.)
Most interesting for me though is the early material from the albums Nova Akropola and Laibach, some of which is sung in their native Slovenian, and most of which displays an angry, rugged sample-heavy construction that puts me vaguely in mind of early Swans (e.g. “Time Is Money”) or Coil (e.g. “Spoiler”). It all sounds refreshingly lo-fi yet has dated better than some of the later pieces. At the other end of the scale is the only new track, an uncharacteristic reworking of standard Pop ballad “Mama Leone”, sung in Italian, and bringing the number of languages used on this album to at least four.
The star-studded remix disc is a little hit and miss, as these things tend to be. Skinny Puppy discovered on Remix Dys Temper that harsh, guttural vocals do not always fare well when taken out of their original context and pasted over dance music; wisely, most of the remixers here have given Milan Fras‘ bombastic rantings a back seat. Zeta Reticula‘s banging “Wir Tanzen Ado Hinkel” and Optical‘s predictably dark Drum’n’bass version of “God Is God” stand out, whereas Richie Hawtin‘s ‘hardcore noise mix’ of “Wirtschaft Ist Tot” is not really anything of the sort – nice try though – and gabba has-been Ultraviolence (or perhaps his collaborator Hitman) comes off sounding a bit trite compared to Laibach themselves. Amusingly, Felix Casio has taken “God Is God” and made it sound like Juno Reactor again. Overall though the second disc is more of interest to DJs than home listeners; don’t let this spoil the attractiveness of the compilation as a whole though. If you’re in the same boat as I was a couple of weeks ago, it’s an ideal acquisition.