Surely even the most casual of music fans have heard the name Trevor Horn. While most producers are anonymous figures, known only to musical anoraks who scour CD credits, Horn was the man who, in many ways, defined the sound of the ’80s. Whether it be hitting the zeitgeist with Buggles‘ Video Killed The Radio Star just as MTV launched or scandalising a generation with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Horn was definitely a major figure during that era.
So it’s fitting that, after 25 years in the business, there’s now an album compiled in tribute to Horn. Stretching over all of Horn’s career and taking in most of the artists he’s worked with, it’s as good a summation of Horn’s sound as any other. There’s no chronological order here, which is probably a good thing as his star slipped somewhat in the ’90s when working with bland AOR singles such as Leanne Rimes and Seal.
In his heyday though, Horn was the best producer around and this CD demonstrates why. While Video Killed The Radio Star may have dated somewhat now, it’s impossible not to feel a twinge of nostalgia at the sound of it. Relax meanwhile, still sounds absolutely mighty, twenty years on. Horn’s production was absolutely vital to the song’s success, inserting inspired sound effects such as the climatic thunderstorm towards the end and making Mark O Toole’s bass a veritable trademark.
The theatrical pop of ABC has also dated well, with songs such as Poison Arrow and The Look Of Love now sounding like classics – the inspired touch of a string arrangement giving the tracks a surprising amount of depth. On the other hand, Dollar‘s tracks now sound extraordinary lightweight, with not even Horn managing to work anything special with David Van Day and Thereza Bazar’s reedy vocals.
Perhaps Horn’s best work is showcased on the second disc. The Art Of Noise could be infuriatingly pretentious at times but in Moments Of Love they produced one of the most dreamily romantic songs ever. It’s rumoured that Madonna and Sean Penn walked down the aisle to this song at their wedding and it would be a soul made of granite who could remain unmoved by the sheer power of the track.
Even better is the full eight minute version of Grace Jones‘ Slave To The Rhythm, one of the greatest songs of the ’80s. Horn’s expert production sheen worked wonders here, creating a dramatic, yet still danceable number that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1985. The under-rated Propaganda also show up on the second disc, though it’s their first single Dr Mabuse which represents them rather than the perfect pop song that was Duel.
However by the time the ’90s were underway, Horn was less prolific. He produced Simple Minds in their rather self-important phase of Belfast Child and Mandela Day but still managed to sprinkle some sonic magic over these portentous tunes. His collaborations with the Pet Shop Boys seemed to be the perfect vehicle for him and Left To My Own Devices still sounds absolutely barmy, blending the perfect mix of pretension and fun (summed up in the immortal line “Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat”).
There are a few tracks here that don’t employ Horn’s talents to any noticeable effect – step forward Lisa Stansfield and The Frames – but fans needn’t worry. If Tatu‘s short lived faux-lesbianism proved anything it was that Horn can still work his magic – All The Things She Said could stand up with the best of his work.
Overall, the good tracks far outweigh the more non-descript ones and there really is something for everyone on both discs. It’s difficult to think of another producer who could produce both a tribute album and gig, and it’s testament to Horn’s skills that this CD contains some of the best music of the last 25 years. This is a worthy tribute to a highly talented man.