Manchester dance outfit Neil Claxton and Chris Baker, aka Mint Royale, might not have achieved the same critical kudos or multi-platinum success as fellow genre-straddling electronic duos Basement Jaxx and Groove Armada, but their highly inventive sound has become much more ubiquitous than their low-profile suggests. Early single "From Rusholme with Love" has appeared on Hollywood soundtracks as diverse as Get Carter and Serendipity, their inspired reworking of the musical classic "Singin' in the Rain" was used for the brilliant Gene Kelly-starring Volkswagen Golf GTI commercial, while their big-beat remix of Terrorvision's "Tequila" turned the bog-standard hair metal original into a Fatboy Slim-esque party anthem which missed the number one spot by a whisker in 1999. All three numbers appear on Pop Is..., a comprehensive overview of the band's nine-year career, which cherry-picks the best material from their three studio albums, 1999's On the Ropes, 2002's Dancehall Places, and 2005's See You in the Morning. From the chaotic brass-infused breakbeats of "Kenny's Last Dance" to the Captain Beefheart-sampling, bluesy electronica of "Blue Song," to the industrial dance-rock of the New Order-esque "Wait for You," its 16 tracks only highlight how their lowly chart fortunes (none of their LPs have made the Top 100) are disproportionate to the high consistency of their eclectic output. But Mint Royale's sound is best complemented when it's accompanied by an array of esteemed guest vocalists. De La Soul's P.O.S. lends his laid-back MC skills to "Show Me," an addictive blend of old-school hip-hop and African gospel melodies; the tongue-in-cheek "Sexiest Man in Jamaica" is a '70s string-soaked Latino house number which borrows the distinctive tones of ska legend Prince Buster; while "Dancehall Places" is a surprisingly emotive acoustic folk ballad featuring Seattle indie singer/songwriter Damien Jurado, which shows they're just as capable of producing Zero 7-style chillout as they are the bombastic floor-fillers. Best of all is the gorgeous "Don't Falter," a collaboration with former Kenickie singer and now TV presenter Lauren Laverne, whose carefree, girlish vocals are the perfect match for the duo's sun-soaked, '60s-influenced production. An unashamedly bubblegum calypso-style interpretation of Wham!'s pure pop classic, "Wham Rap," suggests that Baker's departure hasn't affected their trademark cut-and-paste nature; their string-soaked remix of Stone Roses' "Elephant Stone," and an early appearance from a then-unknown Duffy on the orchestral cinematics of "The Effect on Me" provide a source of intrigue, while "Singin' in the Rain," which became an unexpected chart-topper thanks to Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson's dance routine, still sounds as gloriously ingenious as ever. The aural equivalent of a selection box, Pop Is... is an unpredictable and chaotic hits package which could repeat the success of recent collections from their more celebrated counterparts.
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