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Danny Elfman issues a sonic threat with remix album Bigger. Messier.

"Bigger. Messier."

Release date: 12 August 2022
Danny elfman bigger messier art
15 August 2022, 00:00 Written by Tom Kingsley

Big MessDanny Elfman’s first solo album in 37 years, not counting his huge roster of soundtrack work – was arguably less of a big mess than it ought to have been.

With its caustic, kicking-against-the-pricks energy constrained by some lazy songwriting and self-conscious cliché, it gave the sense of something missing, as though Elfman should have spent a few more months throwing ideas at the wall to see what splattered into a disturbing enough shape.

All of which makes Bigger. Messier. feel like a smart move. Where the traditional remix album targets club DJs with anodyne house and techno tracks, Elfman’s list of collaborators – Boris, Trent Reznor, HEALTH – shows that the title of this collection isn’t just a promise. It’s a threat. Bigger. Messier. is literally bigger than the double album it follows, and many of the reworked versions are almost unrecognisable, allowing the multiple remixes of “In Time” and “Kick Me” to sound completely fresh each time.

Unlike Elfman’s other major release this year, the soundtrack to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Bigger. Messier. shows how working with other musicians can bring Elfman’s twisted imagination into focus. Multiverse of Madness was oddly restrained, living in the shadow of Michael Giacchino’s score for Doctor Strange (Giacchino was originally planned to return for the sequel, but Sam Raimi replaced him with Elfman when he took over as director). But when the tables are turned – when it’s other musicians picking up Elfman’s work and recalibrating it, like a nefarious electrician – the results are pure magic. Big Mess’ mathy sensibilities get refracted through a dazzling variety of prisms here, from industrial metal to electronic punk, but there’s a cohesion in the approach that makes a virtue of messiness and bigness.

The energy isn’t always aggressive, either. Elfman eases you into his multiverse of madness, opening with a Squarepusher remix of “We Belong” that’s typically complex, but also weirdly beautiful, drawing on Squarepusher’s love of jazz harmonies and warm synths. Similarly, 33EMYBW’s take on “Happy” is frenetic to the point of exhaustion, but its footwork rhythms and distorted club sound welcome you into a world that feels pleasantly familiar. It’s not until Zach Hill’s remix of “Kick Me” that the album starts sounding like an exercise in punishing its listeners, a feeling that Machine Girl’s version of “Insects” (titled, of course, “Insecticidal Tendencies Remix”) only confirms. Anodyne club music this is not.

That said, Bigger. Messier. does drag a little towards the end – particularly when Elfman’s collaborators show too much respect for the original tracks. (Stu Brooks’ remix of “True” is an example of this: the bassist played with Danny Elfman at Coachella, and you get a sense that he’s a little too close to this music as a result.) But then the album closes out with an absolutely bonkers remix of “Happy” by Little Snake, who somehow manages both to deconstruct the track into smithereens and to enhance its gothic, trippy essence. Little Snake is the breakout star of this collection, a little-known producer signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, and he supplies two of Bigger. Messier.’s most creatively destructive reworkings. Like so many of the collaborators here, he seems to tap into an essence and a vision that was missing from Big Mess – as though this were the album Big Mess wanted to be, a second attempt that hits the nail right on the head and buries it in your ear.

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