The Essentials IIPostmodern Jukebox
The Essentials II charts the astounding growth and time-warping sensibilities of PMJ, collecting 18 more favorites from the group’s era-colliding mash-ups. There’s a heavy metal anthem twisted into Motor City soul, a ’90s boy-band earworm refitted with angelic doo-wop harmonies, the Biebs and Britney turned black and white, even a sad clown turning a party-girl anthem into a melancholy ballad.
“If you’re looking for a starting point for PMJ, the two Essentials collections catch you up to speed on everything you need to know about what we do,” Bradlee says. “This album brings together a diverse sampling of songs that have been big in the PMJ universe: fan favorites, viral hits, recent successes and early tracks that were influential on our journey.”
That journey has been a remarkable one. Postmodern Jukebox started as a lark, a way for a struggling musician in a cramped apartment in Queens to reimagine the music of the day in the bygone styles that he loved: vintage jazz, golden age rock and roll, classic soul and early blues. The idea caught on, with a vaudevillian distressing of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” and a ‘50s doo-wop romp on of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” garnering millions of views and creating demand for more.
Bradlee recounts that extraordinary story in his recent memoir, Outside the Jukebox, but the astonishing saga of PMJ is revealed in spectacular fashion through the 18 tracks on The Essentials II. No longer just a fun get-together for a group of gifted friends, PMJ here invites actor-comedian Wayne Brady into the fold, channeling Cab Calloway on a Halloween rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Saxophone giant Dave Koz swings into the studio on a ‘50s prom-inspired take on Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” with a cappella crooner Mario Jose and The Voice semifinalist India Carney. Even wider exposure came via Bradlee’s heartfelt salute to the late rock icon David Bowie, the stunning “Heroes” with Nicole Atkins, which took on a life of its own via its use in a Heineken PSA featuring Formula One legend Sir Jackie Stewart.
“It’s so amazing to look back and see all of the amazing, talented people that I’ve gotten to work with,” Bradlee says. “I love what I get to do: I’m able to dream big and make these things come to life.”
The scale of Bradlee’s dreams becomes immediately apparent as The Essentials II opens with swooning strings, ushering in a lush, cinematic makeover of Soundgarden’s brooding grunge classic “Black Hole Sun” featuring American Idol alum Haley Reinhart, a frequent PMJ collaborator. After the stirring “Heroes,” singer-songwriter Kenton Chen (who has shared the stage with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Sara Bareilles and Stevie Wonder) steps into the spotlight for a peppy ‘50s-style gloss on the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” then harmonizes with Jose and two other singers for a doo-wop “MMMbop.”
Saturday Night Live made Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” into a head-bobbing punchline, but Casey Abrams’ soul-stirring voice gives the song new life – with a frat-party spirit equal parts Isley Brothers and Animal House. Abrams returns alongside vocal wunderkind Hannah Gill for a stark, disturbing rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that takes the title literally, transporting it from the dance floor to the loony bin.
One of PMJ’s oldest friends, pin-up chanteuse Robyn Adele Anderson has been on board since the project’s meager beginnings, fronting their earliest viral hits. Anderson returns with a trio of doo-wop backing singers for an infectious, finger-snapping stroll through the Pitbull hit “Timber.” Casting beyond these shores, Dutch sensation Jennie Lena climbs aboard for a Motown-style retooling of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” while Swedish one-woman-band Gunhild Carling tackles ‘80s hair-metal classic “The Final Countdown” with Billie Holiday-esque vocals and brassy tombone.
Finding new depths in familiar hits, the powerhouse Maiya Sykes gives the Notorious B.I.G. a vintage jazz sheen on “Juicy” and the expressive Sara Niemetz goes Roaring Twenties for Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” Broadway star Morgan James wrings every ounce of emotion from an orchestral soul spin on Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Melinda Doolittle smolders doing Britney Spears’ “Toxic” as a 30s-era torch song.
The “Sad Clown with the Golden Voice,” Puddles Pity Party has become a PMJ favorite with performances like his morose essaying of Sia’s “Chandelier,” while then 15-year-old showstopper Caroline Baran became a sensation belting out Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” Finally, the cast of the 2015 European tour join together for “All About That Bass,” giving fans a taste of PMJ’s dazzling and star-studded live shows.
The staggering variety of genres and talents represented on The Essentials II offers just a taste of Bradlee’s prodigious imagination. Postmodern Jukebox posted a brand-new video each and every week for more than five years before taking a summer-long hiatus to gear up for what Bradlee is calling “Season 2,” an even more ambitious relaunch planned for the fall.
“The Essentials II gives a hint of things to come,” he says. “When PMJ started, we were known for viral hits and being timely. Over time I’ve begun to think of PMJ differently, as an amazing platform where we don’t need to do things just for attention anymore, we can just put out great music. I take more chances on the arrangements and the casting, and we’ve covered bigger or more interesting songs. We’re still uncovering aspects of Postmodern Jukebox. You learn as you go; that’s just part of being an artist.”