The multitude of tributes paid to Cathal Coughlan after his death last year was effusive, poignant and emotional. One common thread in all of the notes of recognition and gratitude for the Cork musician’s creative output was amazement at the breadth and diversity of his work: from Fatima Mansions and Microdisney to his resonant solo work, his partnership with Luke Haines on The North Sea Scrolls, and various other side projects and collaborations over the years. You could never quite guess where he might go next.
Coughlan kept fans guessing right until the end of his life with his final collaboration with producer Jacknife Lee as Telefís. The duo released two well-received albums, a hAon and a Dó, in 2022. Now follows a compilation of alternate versions and remixes that neatly ties up the project and brings together the various EPs that were released as companion pieces to the albums throughout 2021 and 2022.
As gargantuan a presence as Coughlan may be over these songs — at least in the original form — it is Lee’s influence that is more keenly felt on this album. Remixes by electronic pop luminaries including Jape, Basement Jaxx, Thomas Leer and Howie B enhance and tinker with his original compositions, while on many tracks here, Coughlan’s vocals are shifted or even occasionally replaced altogether.
[ Telefís: A hAon review — Theocratic electropop from the Irish diaspora ]
[ Do not adjust your Telifís: A very Irish musical duo ]
There Goes Waterface and Ballytransnational are two songs featuring relatives and acquaintances of Lee’s putting their own stamp on the songs — from Mrs Hegarty to Da and Esther. The former is a quirky substitute that is novel enough to work, but the latter strips all the drama and excitement out of the original, leaving a bland, if admittedly wry, husk in its place. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t quite land.
‘I miss breakfast rolls and the sense of humour but our life in the US has been as normal as anyone else’s with young kids’
On a more positive note, Basement Jaxx’s remix of Space is Us takes the 1970s groove of the original and transforms it into a propulsive house number and the zippy pace of The Fetch’s remix of We Need kicks it up a notch. Howie B’s remix of Strawboy Supernova, on the other hand, is disappointingly bland, erasing Coughlan’s vocals but substituting them with nothing of note.
Like most albums of this persuasion, Special Report will probably only appeal to hardcore fans of Telefís and there is little essential listening here that can’t be found in a more succinct manner on a hAon and a Dó. Whether you’re open to investigating, however, can be decided with one simple question: does anyone really need three different versions of Falun Gong Dancer featuring Jah Wobble in their life?