Best treated as a single entity, Classic House is a truly triumphant release. Tong, Buckley, and the Heritage Orchestra pitch their modern takes on club classics just right, refocusing and futureproofing an elite cut of tracks.
Having been a DJ on BBC Radio 1 for over 35 years, it’s fair to say that Pete Tong knows what he’s on about when it comes to house music, and Classic House does nothing but support that. A mix of 21 classics of the genre originally reimagined for an orchestral airing at Radio 1’s Ibiza Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in 2015, this album is stunning. From the 1998 Fatboy Slim smash ‘Right Here Right Now’ through to Rudimental’s 2013 hit ‘Feel The Love’ with John Newman, these all-new recordings of much-loved favourites feel like they could easily feature on a club’s setlist in 2017. The soul of every song remains intact in Tong and Jules Buckley’s adaptations, with the arrangement often placing new emphasis on elements of the songs.
As you might expect from such an experienced DJ, Classic House is perfectly sequenced and balanced. Rather than being a collection of songs, this feels like a 69-minute journey (and the download edition begins with a continuous mix). Perhaps most crucially, every change made absolutely works: there is no track on Classic House weaker than its original. Standouts are the rearrangements of Robert Miles’ ‘Children,’ ATB’s ‘9pm,’ Faithless’ ‘Insomnia,’ and, best of all, the medley of the eerie Brainbug track ‘Nightmare’ and certified classic ‘Café Del Mar,’ originally released by Energy 52 in 1993. These upgrades fit perfectly with the 65-piece Heritage Orchestra, showing almost a casual ease in the class they bring. The beats are still at the fore, but it’s impossible to fail to notice the strings gracefully leading or supporting parts of Tong’s overall vision.
There’s a great precision to this album, maybe shown best through the ebb and flow of its pace. Every element combines to create a piece that is both very easy listening – and a great revision soundtrack – and unwaveringly magnetic. ‘Waiting All Night,’ another Rudimental track making the final cut, is a very delicate addition that expertly pivots the record from a slightly calmer middle act towards its packed final 20 minutes. As the Ibiza Prom proves, the music translates extremely well to a live environment, with Tong sampling, mixing, and looping the orchestra live. (If you only watch part of the video below, I highly recommend starting at around an hour and eight minutes in.)
Though released late last year as the ensemble played and sold out three arena shows before announcing a new tour for this coming December, Classic House has suddenly seen a huge surge in sales in more recent weeks. (At the time of writing, it has just displaced The xx atop the album chart.) Cynics, including my editor, might note that this rise has coincided with the record being widely available, even physically, for under £5, yet there is no denying its standing. Perhaps the album’s only negative point is its omission of Duck Sauce’s banger ‘Big Bad Wolf,’ which would have surely been utterly flawless if given the once over by Tong and conductor Buckley, who is one of Europe’s most in-demand and, having collaborated with Basement Jaxx on a similar project in 2011, no stranger to such a a contemporary orchestral endeavour.
Speaking of flawless, taken as a whole, Classic House is an incredible body of work. The Life Of Pablo aside, this is arguably the most assured album for some time: a quality which strengthens it and makes it very hard to find fault. Classic House does what it does extremely well, and is instantly timeless through its transportation of old and new sounds to a new arena.
Classic House is out now via UMC