Many people who take music seriously seem to have a viscerally bad reaction to remixes, and it’s not hard to see why: They can be, and frequently are, a way for labels to endlessly re-promote an artist’s new material while simultaneously pushing other performers and producers—a giveaway that keeps everyone, including devoted fans, happy. But that doesn’t mean the songs are usually good. Remixes proliferate online, where for every cherished one (Ke$ha’s remix of “Sleazy” featuring André 3000 is a recent personal favorite), there’s a whole lot more that doesn’t need to be heard by anyone. And as Maura Johnston recently pointed out in regard to Charli XCX’s “Nuclear Seasons,” who has the time?
In other words, it’s a mixed bag. And in this respect, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way: The Remix isn’t much different. The already all-over-the-place Born This Way album is reworked by artists as different as Gaga’s own musical influences: A version of “Born This Way” by Zedd begins with a minimalist beat until some grinding synths kick in, cutting the song’s ambitions by at least 90 percent. A more interesting bit of experimentation is Goldfrapp’s take on “Judas,” a languid chant in which Gaga’s voice is transformed into a deep, manly groan. Foster the People’s “The Edge of Glory” is predictably annoying, a lazily amped-up dance number all the better for snorting coke. Wild Beast’s “Yoü and I” sounds oddly just like, well, a Wild Beasts song, and the Weeknd’s “Marry the Night” is appropriately Weeknd-y, with a dour vocal sample and steely drum loop. Whether those are good or bad things is entirely up to you.
Other songs make one wonder what about the original tracks is worth remixing. “Black Jesus - Amen Fashion” and “Bloody Mary” weren’t exactly highlights on the original album, though (maybe because of that fact) the remix of the former actually improves on its source material. U.K. producer Michael Woods turns it into the straightforward rave trance anthem it probably always should’ve been. As with many remixes, there are multiple concessions to the electronic-music crowd: Guena LG Club’s remix of the already clubby “Scheisse” sounds amusingly like an overstuffed soundtrack to a cyberpunk anime. All the bass-dropping on Gregori Klosman’s “Americano,” however, is unbearable.
Certain artists cry out for the remix treatment more than others, usually those whose vocal talents are relatively straightforward and could benefit from the extra fuss (Mariah Carey and Norah Jones both come to mind). And though Kanye West made a sick sample out of “Poker Face” for Kid Cudi’s “Make Her Say,” Lady Gaga is not necessarily one of those artists. Born This Way, in particular, is too big and untamed, full of too many of its own references and styles, from Springsteen to Madonna. As such, it’s best enjoyed on its own flawed, bombastic terms. And if you want to listen to the Weeknd, well, you’re better off listening to the Weeknd.